Once Marginalized, Black Nursing Alumni Honored With a Memorial Bench

May 17, 2023 By Christine Phelan Kueter, kueter@virginia.edu Christine Phelan Kueter, kueter@virginia.edu

A group of Black alumni who helped integrate the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing – but until recently were not recognized as graduates – were honored with a memorial bench outside the school in a recent ceremony.

The Licensed Practical Nursing alumni were part of a 1950s and 1960s partnership between UVA Hospital, Jackson P. Burley High School and the Nursing School at a time when Black students were not allowed to attend UVA.

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About 150 students, including a handful of men, completed the program that ran until 1966. Although the students were not officially recognized as UVA alumni until 2019, many went on to become successful in the medical field and in other pursuits:

  • Charles Barbour, a 1960 graduate, became Charlottesville’s first Black mayor.
  • Grace Tinsley, a 1958 graduate, was the first Black woman to serve on the Charlottesville School Board.
  • Dr. Anita-Rae Smith-Pankey, a 1958 graduate, later graduated from Howard University Medical School and became a psychiatrist.
  • Evelyn Rodgers Garner, a 1961 graduate, established UVA’s first outpatient neurology unit and taught scores of students in her more than 40-year nursing career.
  • Louella Walker, a 1958 graduate, worked as nurse at UVA Hospital for 50 years.

Nursing School Dean Marianne Baernholdt addressed the alumni and their families at the ceremony. The Nursing School, she said, is more than 120 years old, while UVA itself is more than 200 years old, and each took part in perpetuating the injustice of discrimination.

A large audience of U V A nursing alumni celebrating the dedication of the bench
Dozens of nursing alumni, friends and supporters gathered to be recognized for contributions they made to the school and the community, contributions that were often marginalized at the time. (Photo by UVA School of Nursing)

“Even nursing, with its focus on compassion and care, is guilty of discriminating against its own based on gender, education and race, reflecting a time when excluding people was acceptable,” Baernholdt said. “We knew better then, and we know better now. I am heartily sorry we did not welcome you into our programs and alumni community with open arms until 2019.”

The new bench, part of the UVA Memorial Benches Initiative, honors UVA students from diverse backgrounds who have significantly contributed to the University. The project was launched last year and has so far honored eight members of the University community by placing memorial benches around Grounds.

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Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing