"The First Generation"
"The First Generation: Thirty Years of the Office of African-American Affairs at the University of Virginia"
An abridgement of a lecture by Professor Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. (University of Virginia Records Manager & Research Archivist), for the Office of African-American Affairs' 30th Anniversary Kickoff Celebration, Minor Hall Auditorium, University of Virginia, 7 November 2006
This lecture, derived from a forthcoming history of African-Americans at U.Va., is copyrighted © 2006 by Prof. Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. and reproduced here by permission. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without his written permission.
African-American males survive and succeed within a double consciousness as blacks and as men. Five have served as deans of the Office of African-American Affairs and its story is reflected by this generation of excellence: Dr. William L. Harris (1976-1981); Dr. Paul L. Puryear (1981-1986); Father Joseph A. Brown (1986-1988); Dr. M. Rick Turner (1988-2006), and, Dr. Maurice Apprey (August 2006-present). During this lecture I will differentiate their tenures as the Harris Era, the Puryear Period, the Brown Years, the Turner Age, and the Apprey Interregnum.
The 19th Century Black U.Va. Experience
The OAAA's antecedents are based on slavery. A farm bequeathed to the University in 1835 by Martin Dawson, university commissioner of accounts, was sold at public auction for $19,500 and six faculty houses constructed during 1859 were later converted into dormitories. Dawson's sixty-two slaves were housed in two "Negro quarters" near the Grounds while employed at U.Va.. Throughout the Civil War, Dawson's Row housed Confederate patients cared for by local Blacks; only the Luther P. Jackson House survives of the original houses. Also, #3 Dawson's Row was known as "Monroe's Slave Quarters" because James Monroe, fifth president of the United States and member of the Board of Visitors, housed slaves at what is now Monroe Hill before the property was sold to the University. Educational segregation began in1870 when Virginia General Assembly prohibited black and white students from attending the same public schools; this prohibition remained in effect for the next one hundred years.
The 20th Century Black U.Va. Experience to the 1970s
It was not until 1935 that a Black student, Alice Jackson, a twenty-two-year-old teacher at Virginia Union University and daughter of a Richmond pharmacist, the first Black applicant, was denied admission because of her race, state law and "common customs and traditions." Worried she might become a successful NAACP court test case because of her strong academic credentials, the 1936 General Assembly passed a law offering funding to Black students who sought graduate degrees not available in the state. Under this law, Negro students had to first be denied admission to the University of Virginia (or another white state school) in order to qualify for out of state tuition assistance; this program continued until 1968. Fifty-five years after her thwarted admission attempt, Alice Jackson Stuart, keynote speaker at the OAAA's annual awards banquet (1990), remarked: "This invitation to address the children and grandchildren of my generation . . . in the name of this great university leaves me with a sense of great joy and long reminiscences."
After World War II, for the first time, Black scholars were invited to U.Va. as guest lecturers. Dr. Luther Porter Jackson, professor of history at Virginia State College, delivered a conference paper, "Virginia and Civil Rights" in 1949. Twenty-eight years later the University named the Luther P. Jackson House in his honor. Dr. Walter Nathaniel Ridley (1910-1996), admitted in 1951, became U.Va.'s first Black graduate in June 1953 and the nation's first African-American to receive a doctorate degree from a white southern university. He became president of Elizabeth City State Teachers College, North Carolina. His 1951 admission is additionally significant because the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering the desegregation of public schools was three years in the future.
During the 1960s and 1970, Blacks made some progress. In 1960, Wesley L. Harris of Richmond, a student in the School of Engineering, was the first Black student assigned a room on the Lawn and graduated with honors in1964 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering; his brother, William, became the OAAA's first dean a decade later. The Rotch Report (1969) investigated recruitment, admission, and retention of Black students and faculty, and recommended the appointment of a dean to coordinate these activities. Dr. Donald W. Jones was appointed as President Frank Hereford's advisor on minority affairs in 1973. He served in this role for several U.Va. presidents, became founding director of the Office of Minority Procurement, and retired in 2006.