The Gregory H. Swanson Award recognizes a University of Virginia School of Law student or students who demonstrate standards of character and conduct exemplified by Gregory Hayes Swanson. Swanson was the first Black student to attend UVA and the Law School. Among other qualities, he modeled by his example courage, perseverance and a commitment to justice.
Swanson, who had already earned his law degree from Howard University and was a practicing attorney, applied to the Law School for the 1950-51 term as an LL.M. degree candidate. The faculty of the Law School initially accepted him, but the University blocked his admission, stating: “The applicant is a colored man. The Constitution and the laws of the State of Virginia provide that white and colored shall not be taught in the same schools.”
Undaunted, Swanson sued the University in federal court in downtown Charlottesville. Civil rights legends Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson and Martin A. Martin of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund represented Swanson. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court ordered his admission in Gregory Hayes Swanson v. The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (Sept. 5, 1950). Swanson thereafter completed coursework at the Law School. (Read More About Swanson’s Time at UVA)
This award commemorates Swanson’s accomplishment in integrating the University of Virginia at a time when state law and custom did not welcome him. We are grateful and proud to recognize his contribution to our law school and university community.
All currently enrolled law students are eligible regardless of background, including but not limited to race, national origin, citizenship, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability and political affiliation. The award includes a tuition grant of $2,000.
Past Swanson Award Recipients
- 2023 - Yewande Ford ’23
- 2022 - Rambert Tyree ’22
- 2021 - Nirajé Medley-Bacon ’22
- 2020 - Erin Seagears ’20
- 2019 - Michele St Julien ’20
- 2018 - Jah Akande ’19 and Toccara Nelson ’19