For its part, the Cavalier Daily ignored Swanson while he was on Grounds and did not mark his departure. In 1952, however, Staige Davis Blackford Jr. became the paper’s editor. He was a Rhodes Scholar who supported both integration and Darden’s efforts to end UVA’s reputation as a “Southern country club.”9 On the newspaper’s editorial page, Blackford battled and, some have argued, even bettered the powerful University dean Ivey Foreman Lewis, a longtime segregationist and supporter of eugenics. The editor and his allies argued that UVA must change, while Lewis responded that slavery had benefited African Americans and that integration would lead to race mixing, or as he derisively put it, “a brown America.”10
Two years later, when the Supreme Court finally made its ruling, this tempest had died down and the Cavalier Daily, now under Slayton’s editorship, returned to referencing, without reproach, the traditions of slavery. Darden, meanwhile, preferred to mostly stay out of the fight. Had there been more pressure, this might have been impossible, but during the 1950s the numbers of black students remained low.
“Time … has a habit of correcting all problems,” Slayton wrote in the paper’s May 18 editorial. Time having been denied in this case, “we will now have the opportunity of seeing what effect legislative morals will have on a way of life.”
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 1954
The next day, another urgent issue occupied Slayton’s mind, although it’s difficult to understand, from reading only the paper, what exactly had happened. Titled “Unwarranted Political Pressure,” Slayton’s editorial mentioned “the dismissal of eleven students from the University,” but did not explain the circumstances. Instead, the editor worried that some of the perpetrators may win appeals of their punishment due to their elite status.
Other sources reveal that in April an all-night party on the East Lawn, attended by 12 men and a 19-year-old woman, resulted in what appears to have been a sexual assault. After being contacted by the woman’s parents, Darden reported that “the girl had come home that day in a dazed condition, apparently beaten and brutalized, covered with bruises.”11
The Cavalier Daily never reported on the incident. The Charlottesville Daily Progress did not publish a report when the incident occurred, either, referring only to a “sex scandal” and that the woman was “struck” by the men, according to the paper’s later coverage of the Board of Visitors’ deliberations on the incident.12
The historian Henry Wiencek has argued that the attack is important in part because it highlights hypocrisy shown by the state, which in 1950-51 vigorously prosecuted and executed the black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who were convicted of raping a white woman. Virginia’s attorney general insisted at the time that justice would have looked no different had the accused been white. But at UVA, where this ended up being the case, the local authorities apparently never even investigated.13
Instead, the Student Council called a mass meeting at Newcomb Hall, claiming among other things that Darden had tread on the council’s authority by looking into the assault. In one of the speeches delivered that day, a student referenced the satirical “State U” piece that had recently appeared in the Cavalier Daily. He said that it rightly noted how UVA had “turned into a 1984 – a state of distrust and police action.”14
Darden responded with understatement. “Too many University students who insist on complete liberty are not enthusiastic about self-discipline,” he told the paper. The alleged attack and its victim, meanwhile, remained unmentioned.15
THURSDAY, MAY 20, 1954
The day after Slayton’s editorial on political pressure, the Cavalier Daily reprinted an essay paying homage to Thomas Jefferson. In a section called “Shadow of One Man,” the writer, a history instructor, noted that “Charlottesville has changed much since 1826 when Mr. Jefferson finally left it. But it has changed as he would have wished.”16
That assertion seemed very much up for debate in 1954.
Jefferson could hardly have imagined a world in which African Americans and women were guaranteed equality under the law. And many faculty, alumni and students at the university he founded struggled with opening the gates of UVA any wider than they already had. While many, like Staige Blackford, supported a rethinking of UVA, whom it should educate, and how, others thought more like the first-year student who wrote to the Cavalier Daily during this time: “A woman’s place is not in a gentleman’s university” –conjuring up the many complicated dimensions of being a “gentleman” in Virginia.17