Photos From 50 Years of BLSA

Black Law Students Association Celebrates Anniversary at UVA Law
Collage of BLSA events and people

Photos courtesy UVA Law Archives and UVA Law Communications/Illustration by Warren Craghead

October 13, 2020

This is part 2 in a two-part series marking BLSA’s 50th anniversary. Read part 1.

For 50 years as of this week, the Black Law Students Association has been a force in recruiting Black students and faculty, as well as creating a sense of belonging for community members at the University of Virginia School of Law.

“In reflecting on BLSA’s role at the Law School over the years, we are deeply grateful for and inspired by the resilience, wisdom and strength of all of the BLSA alumni who came before us,” BLSA President Allison Burns ’22 said. “The story of BLSA at UVA Law has been one of relentless advocacy and tight-knit community.”

Burns said the group is directing a weeklong social media campaign on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — including trivia games and survey questions — to count down to the founding date, Oct. 16. (At the time of its founding in 1970, the group was called the Black American Law Students Association, or BALSA.)

The chapter will also relaunch Black Culture Week, which was originally hosted at UVA in February of 1970.

“In February 2021, we will have a week of events celebrating Black culture and we look forward to launching a digital BLSA exhibit in collaboration with the library,” she said.

Burns said BLSA members are “proud to continue this legacy by finding creative ways to foster community and support for current BLSA students and working with the administration to make meaningful changes in the school that will benefit BLSA students to come.”

Over the years the group has won numerous “chapter of the year” awards from the National Black Law Students Association, including in March 2020 and six since 2002. Among the group’s goals today are making UVA Law a more inclusive space.

“We continue to advocate for the active recruitment of Black faculty, staff and students and the inclusion of race in the academic space, through diversity training, more race-based courses, and a graduation requirement [that students take such a course].”

Images from the past 50 years showcase the organization’s activities, from service projects at home and abroad, to hosting high-profile speakers and sponsoring career receptions.

“BLSA is special as an organization precisely because of this rich history and strong sense of community,” Burns said. “UVA BLSA students support each other while at the school and well after graduation. I am humbled and grateful to be a part of such an organization.”

BLSA Over the Years

  • First members of the Black American Law Students Association

    Among the first members of the Black American Law Students Association were Bobby Vassar ’72, Jerry Williams ’73, John W. Scott Jr. ’73, Stephanie Valentine Carpenter ’73, Arthur C. McFarland ’73, Charles E. Walker and Leroy W. Bannister ’73, photographed in 1973.

  • Lonnie C. King

    Lonnie C. King, president of the Atlanta NAACP, recounts the history of the Atlanta Coalition on Broadcasting at the first BALSA speaking program in February 1971.

  • 1972 BALSA poster

    A 1972 BALSA poster designed to recruit UVA Law students reads: “Only 2% of the lawyers in this country are Black. Do something about America's criminal and civil injustices. Help make a change. STUDY LAW!"

  • Leonard L. McCants, and Reps. James Felder and Robert Clark

    Leonard L. McCants ’72, center, talks with Reps. James Felder of South Carolina and Robert Clark of Mississippi, who spoke at an event sponsored by BALSA on March 22, 1971.

  • BLSA members and Larry Gibson

    BALSA members Margaret Poles Spencer ’72, Bobby Vassar ’72 and Leonard McCants ’72 led a press conference urging the Law School to hire Black faculty. The next day, the dean reached out to Larry Gibson, right, who was soon hired.

  • Michael Ross

    National Black Law Students Association President Michael Ross ’85 was a featured speaker at the Law School in 1984.

  • Kathleen Cleaver

    Kathleen Cleaver, former leader of the Black Panther Party and then a law professor at Emory University, addresses students in March 1994. Her talk, “Illusions, Delusions and Confusions of a Legal Education,” was sponsored by BLSA and the UVA Women’s Center.

  • Harrison Wilson

    Harrison Wilson ’80, father of NFL quarterback Russell Wilson, speaks about the African-American Sports Hall of Fame at a BLSA event in 1995.

  • Lakeisha Grant and two children

    Lakeisha Grant ’97, chairperson for the BLSA Community Relations Committee, attends a BLSA Buddy Program event with little sibling Desiree Washington and her brother Tory in November 1996.

  • BLSA members pictured on 2002-03 scrapbook

    A group photo of BLSA members pictured on a 2002-03 scrapbook.

  • BLSA members with L. Douglas Wilder

    BLSA members stand with former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in Caplin Auditorium in an undated photograph.

  • BLSA members

    BLSA members celebrate winning Mid-Atlantic chapter of the year in 2007.

  • BLSA members at Foxfield

    BLSA members attend the Foxfield races in an undated photograph.

  • BLSA members in 2008

    BLSA members are pictured on the steps of the Law School on Jan. 13, 2008.

  • BLSA members with Anne Coughlin

    BLSA members attend a student-faculty reception at the home of Professor Anne Coughlin in 2011.

  • BLSA high school event in 2012

    BLSA hosted an event for high school students in 2012.

  • BLSA members during 2012 community service week

    BLSA members and 2014 classmates Andrew Person, Andrea Canfield, Andrew Thebaud and Sean Suber clean up outside the Schoolhouse Thrift Shop in Charlottesville as part of the organization’s community service week in 2012.

  • Liah Burnley and Tawnie Gulizia

    Liah Burnley ’15 and Tawnie Gulizia ’15 lead a class demonstration for Timap paralegals in Sierra Leone as part of a BLSA public service trip to teach paralegals contracts, torts and criminal law, and also to study how foreign companies mine the nation’s abundant natural resources.

  • BLSA members in 2014

    BLSA members in the Class of 2014 are pictured in their first year of law school.

  • Renee Manson, Charis Redmond and Josephine Biemkpa

    Renee Manson ’16, BLSA President Charis Redmond ’17 and Josephine Biemkpa ’16 served on the National Black Law Students Association board in 2015-16 — Biemkpa as national director of membership, Redmond as programming specialist and Manson as national director of NBLSA’s Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition.

  • Robert “Tres” Moore and middle school students

    Robert “Tres” Moore ’14 gives advice to a group of New York middle school students in the Harlem Lacrosse & Leadership program who visited the Law School in March 2013 under the sponsorship of BLSA.

  • BLSA members from 2013-15 classes

    BLSA members from the classes of 2013-15 are pictured in Spies Garden.

  • Black Lives Matter "die-in" protest

    In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19, 2015, members organized a “die-in” and held Black Lives Matter signs while protesting police violence.

  • BLSA hosting mock trial

    BLSA students host a mock trial for high school students in 2015.

  • Blake Morant

    Former BLSA President and NBLSA Chair Melinda Hightower ’11 and Blake Morant ’78, then dean of George Washington University Law School, attend a BLSA Black Alumni Weekend event in April 2015.

  • BLSA members in South Africa in 2016

    Over the past several years, BLSA members have traveled each January to volunteer for a service project, with many focusing on South Africa. Pictured there in January 2016, students meet with members of the Orange Farm community.

  • Jianne McDonald and A. Donald McEachin

    Pictured with BLSA President Jianne McDonald ’19, U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin ’96 received the inaugural BLSA Alumni Spotlight Award in February 2018.

  • BLSA 2019 career diversity reception

    BLSA hosts a career diversity reception in December 2019.

  • Rachel Barnes

    Rachel Barnes ’21 is serving as chair of the National Black Law Students Association, and previously served as vice chair.

  • BLSA members at mid-Atlantic chapter of the year ceremony

    UVA Law BLSA members win mid-Atlantic chapter of the year in February 2020, and in March won chapter of the year at the national level. Pictured are Jordan LaPointe ’22, Princelee Clesca ’20, Nicole Banton ’21, Melissa Privette ’22, Niraje Medley-Bacon ’22, Courtney Davis ’20, Tiffany Mickel ’22, David Kitchin ’22, Natasha Halloran ’21, Catherine Guerrier ’21, Lillian Childress ’21, Rambert Tyree ’22, Michele St Julien ’20, Michael Howell ’21, Rachel Barnes J.D.-MBA ’21, Lise Guerrier ’20 and Morgan Palmiter ’22. 

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