Documentary Profiling U.Va.'s First Black Graduate to Air on PBS

February 15, 2008

February 15, 2008 — A new documentary is airing this month about Walter N. Ridley, the first African American to graduate from the University of Virginia.

"Ridley" is the remarkable story of a leading figure in Virginia’s ongoing struggle for civil rights and equality. Charlottesville producer Bill Reifenberger of Silverthorn Films worked with U.Va.'s Ridley Fund to create a 30-minute documentary — filmed in high definition — tracing Ridley's legacy. The documentary is narrated by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, now U.Va.'s Commonwealth Professor of English.

A trailer for the film can be found at

In the fall of 1951, Ridley, a Virginia native, started on a path to change the course of history. He enrolled in the University of Virginia and received a doctorate of education on June 15, 1953, making him not only the institution’s first black graduate, but also the first African American to earn a doctorate at any public university in the South.

Ridley’s achievements laid the foundation for the more than 11,000 black students who would follow in his footsteps at the University. He also inspired the formation of the Ridley Foundation, the first scholarship board in the United States initiated and funded by a university's black alumni.

First shown on local PBS station WHTJ, "Ridley" will air on other PBS stations this February as part of Black History Month.

The schedule:

• Feb. 23, 4 p.m.
WNVC and MHz Networks: Washington metropolitan region (over the air and on local cable) and nationally on DirecTV. Also on PBS Digital Sub-Channels in the following cities: Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle and Utah.

Feb. 29, 10 p.m.
WVPT: Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Winchester, Eastern West Virginia, Washington and its suburbs

For information about the Ridley Foundation, contact Jennifer DeGraff, assistant director of the Ridley Fund at the U.Va. Alumni Association, at (434) 243-9065 or by e-mail at