University of Virginia to Honor Early Black Alumni During September Weekend

August 27, 2009 — Some of the earliest African-American students who desegregated the University of Virginia in the 1950s and early '60s will be coming back to the Academical Village for a special weekend in their honor Sept. 4 and 5.

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A panel discussion, free and open to the public, will be held Sept. 4 from 9 to 11 a.m. in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library. The discussion, "Looking Back, Moving Forward" will feature three early alumni and three current students. Deborah McDowell, English professor and director of U.Va.'s Carter G. Woodson Institute, will be the moderator.

Some of the alumni attending include the first black graduates of the School of Law and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the first to desegregate the College of Arts & Sciences and the first black student to live on the Lawn. Also in attendance will be the first and second African-American women to graduate from the School of Medicine.

"Think of alumni as the bloodline of an organization," Maurice Apprey, dean of African-American Affairs at U.Va., said. "The Ghanaian words 'san ko fa' signify an invocation to return to the past in order to enrich the future. Now think of how far the University of Virginia as a whole has come since women and blacks have matriculated.

"Put all that together and you have an immensely special occasion on Grounds when these early graduates return. It should be a prideful moment for all of us," he said.

In addition to these pioneers, members of the local African-American community who helped them and opened their homes to the U.Va. students have been invited to join the festivities.

Other events will include the "Slave to Scholar" guided tour focusing on the history of African-Americans at U.Va., a reception at Carr's Hill and the Sept. 5 home football game against William & Mary.

Sponsors include the University's and Health System's offices of diversity, the Office of African-American Affairs and the president's office.