Award, Portrait to Honor UVA and UVA Law’s First Black Student at Feb. 5 Ceremony

Successful Lawsuit Preceded Swanson’s Admission in 1950
Gregory H. Swanson consults with Assistant Law Dean Charles Woltz

Gregory H. Swanson consults with Assistant Law Dean Charles Woltz after registration at UVA on Sept. 15, 1950.

January 15, 2018

The University of Virginia School of Law will honor the late Gregory Hayes Swanson, the first African-American enrollee at UVA and its first black law student, at a ceremony Feb. 5 in Caplin Pavilion.

The event, which is open to the public and begins at 4 p.m., will kick off the school's bicentennial celebration with an unveiling of a portrait of Swanson and the presentation of an award in his honor. UVA Law — the nation's second-oldest continuously operating law school — was an original "department" of the University of Virginia, which was founded in 1819.

The Gregory H. Swanson Award "will recognize UVA Law students who demonstrate the kind of courage, perseverance and commitment to justice that Swanson exemplified when he successfully sued for his right to attend UVA and integrated the Law School and University," Dean Risa Goluboff said.

Swanson’s portrait, which will hang at the Law School, will be accompanied by a description of his successful lawsuit, his legacy and his accomplishments as an attorney, which included a long career at the IRS.

Swanson had already earned his law degree from Howard University before applying to the Law School’s graduate program in late 1949. The Law School faculty accepted him for the 1950-51 term, but UVA blocked his admission, citing state law that barred interracial education.

Around the same time, however, the Supreme Court guaranteed graduate students a right to attend all-white schools like UVA if no other programs in their subject area existed in the state.

Represented by civil rights legends Spottswood Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill and Martin A. Martin of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Swanson filed suit against the University. The case was heard in the federal court in Charlottesville. After a quick decision in Swanson’s favor, he was admitted for the 1950-51 term, and successfully completed coursework for the one-year program.

Members of Swanson's family and other special guests, including UVA Rector Frank M. "Rusty" Conner III '81, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan and Goluboff will offer remarks at the ceremony.  Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, will lead the commemoration.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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