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Desegregating UVA

Alumni reflect on groundbreaking era

In September 1950, Gregory Swanson entered the UVA Law School, becoming the first black student to attend the University of Virginia. Swanson, who had already earned a law degree from Howard University, left UVA in 1951 and returned to practicing law. Two years later, Walter Ridley became UVA’s African-American graduate, earning a doctorate from the Curry School of Education in 1953. Not only was Ridley the University’s first black graduate, he was also the first African American to receive an academic doctoral degree from a traditional Southern white college or university.

During the next decade or so, a group of trailblazing black students attended the University. Many of those students from the 1950s and ’60s returned to Grounds in September for a weekend of sharing memories and celebrating accomplishments. Events included a panel discussion, a guided tour focusing on the history of African-Americans at UVA,  and a reception at Carr’s Hill.

Reunion attendee David Temple (Col ’69, Educ ’72), now a senior research scholar at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement, described the weekend as “an uplifting experience. Seeing all the young students and the graduate students makes it feel … like we did something right.”