The Desegregated Heart

On the occasion marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., we might pause to reflect on the early days of integration at the University of Virginia, going back now six decades. It was in 1950 that Gregory Swanson, a black attorney from Danville, successfully sued to gain admission to the Law School. For years, African-American scholars had been seeking admission to the graduate program, going all the way back to 1935, when Alice Jackson of Richmond applied to the graduate school in French. She was sent away, as others later would also be, accompanied by a state scholarship to study at a northern university of her choice (in this case, Columbia University). But Gregory Swanson took a different tack, and actually enrolled at the University, if only for a brief period. One of the changes he made occurred to the mind and heart of Sarah Patton Boyle, social activist and author of The Desegregated Heart, published in 1962.

Boyle was married to a faculty member in the Drama Department in the College. A descendant of southern aristocracy, she writes in her memoir that she was taught to think of herself “as a part of the very backbone of Virginia, which was the backbone of the South, which was the backbone of nation, which was the backbone of the world.”  For her, the University of Virginia was simply the University, as it was for so many, and she spoke of the University with a pride that was nearly proprietary. The prospect of racial integration at the University, heralded by the impending admission of Gregory Swanson, was a deadly serious matter, commanding her focus so urgently and singularly that all else would be swept aside. In the course of confronting it, she was transformed, as her beloved Virginia—both the state and university—would be.

In the Virginia Spectator, she responded to the question of why she believed in integration: “I believe in integration because of what you might characterize as ‘wild idealism.’ I don’t wince at admitting this because it is with wild idealism that all human progress is made.”  But her “wild idealism” was always infused with a kind of level-headedness. Although she was not trained as a social scientist, she had the habit of a sociologist committed to getting the facts right—before she proceeded to upset the apple cart.

The first thing she examined was her own heart—and the implicit assumptions about race that resided there. Through her correspondence with Gregory Swanson, and her numerous faux pas in encounters with him, she tried to understand the source of the patronizing paternalism that lay just below the surface of her liberalism. When she heard from the editor of The Tribune, the local black newspaper in Charlottesville, that he had little patience with “the gross paternalism of the ‘Master class’-turned-liberal,” she even set up a tutorial with him to educate herself about the mind of black folks, seeking to recast the contours of her heart.  Her stories are poignant, as when she describes being shocked the first time she heard a black person call himself a “Southerner” (rather than a “Southern Negro”); or, writing what she thought was a great essay about why “We Want a Negro at the UVa” (because for “all his assurance and courage [Swanson] has not a trace of defiance,” and “he has a sure sense of where rights cease and privileges begin”).  She was utterly baffled when Swanson reacted coolly, rather than gratefully, to her essay.

But remake her heart she did, and she proceeded to publish a remarkable number of articles and columns in newspapers in the Commonwealth, providing her readers with statistics under the heading of “Facts and Figures of Good Will,” as well as the questions and answers about race relations that always began with the following message in Italics: “Segregation is America’s iron curtain. Its greatest evil has been that it prevents us from understanding each other and from being conscious of each other’s growth. On both sides of the curtain we are about fifty years behind in our interpretation of the other. Write in questions concerning racial attitudes of the educated white Southerner of today. (Names will be withheld).”

In 1955 she also wrote a piece for the Saturday Evening Post, entitled “We Are Readier than We Think.” It was re-titled by the editors, without her consent, as “Southerners Will Like Integration,” earning her the lasting enmity of many of her fellow southerners and a burning cross in her front yard. If the timing of the piece was flawed (it appeared shortly before the Massive Resistance against public school integration), her logic was not. She argued that the South was ready for integration, as evidenced by a 1948 poll of the faculty in the South, including at the University of Virginia, showing that 69 percent of the respondents favored integration at the level of graduate and professional education; at the University of Virginia, some 79 percent of those polled were said to be in favor. A 1950 random poll of University of Virginia graduate students also reported that 73 percent of the returned ballots (216 in total) checked “No Objection” to having black students in class. Why then was there a gap in perception, with people assuming that there was insurmountable resistance to integration? Her answer was cultural: she argued that a conviction prevailed in the South that “everybody else is prejudiced.” The constant fear of “trouble” hid the reality of significant support for integration.

After Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 she appeared before the Public Education Hearing for the Commonwealth. She stayed on message: “Many Southerners like myself actually would prefer integrated schools. Change is something we often need but seldom care for, and most of us will applaud those who give us excuses to avoid the many efforts involved in change .… There is nothing in our hearts to make this change difficult if only we get a little help from our leaders. The silent majority of our people are able, and under proper leadership would be willing, to meet democratic and Christian ideals.”

Today is a day to contemplate the words of this remarkable Virginian. It is also a day to pause to consider what has, and has not, been achieved since they were written fifty-six years ago.

47 Responses to “The Desegregated Heart”

  1. Thamer Obeidat says:

    I believe that the most admirable thing about this woman is her courage and self-confidence. She had a hightened sense of morality that needed to be awakened but most importantly she had the strength of character to right the wrong and change her rhetoric at the right moment.

  2. J Edward Martin says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful and brave recollections. During my years at St Pauls School and The University (BA,’67) the civil rights strugggle came into full fruition and now things have much improved. In my opinion there is confusion these days between what some call racism and what is really only ethnocentrism. The former is despicable while the latter is inevitable.Nearly everyone thinks that his or her group is superior to other similar groups and in my opinion this is to be expected. Ed Martin

  3. Jim Eanes says:

    Thanks for posting this subject. While relations among blacks & whites at UVa are not likely perfect today, they were non-existent for far too long. As a CAS graduate of 1965, there were, I believe, 2 black men in my class. They were truly invisible men, but I know at least one went on to become an M.D. and practice medicine in his native Richmond. Remember: we hadn’t even begun to admit female undergraduates (of any race) at that time.

  4. Margaret Daniel says:

    Dean Woo,

    Thank you for letting me know about this remarkable lady. It’s a fitting way to recognize Martin Luther King Day and think about Dr. King’s contributions.

    By the way, I hear many good things about you from my nephew Penn Daniel.

    Best regards,

    Margaret Perry Daniel
    College of Arts and Sciences, 1975
    Gradute School of Arts and Sciences, 1977

  5. William S. Wilson says:

    An under-graduate in 1949-1953, I was sometimes taken by a professor to lunch in the law school dining room. A young, but mature, not youthful, “black man” ate alone at a table for two. He didn’t look around, and no one spoke to him or seemed even to notice him. He was never identified to me, but I was then wondering if the admissions officers of the Law School were admitting “Negro” candidates, not waiting for official changes. In my experience during those years, a theological student moved into the house where I lived with a “Mrs. Graves,” Madison Lane. According to him in conversation, he had moved out of a dormitory room “the very night” when he had learned that his bed had been occupied by a black theological student. I understand the perils of memory and of the uncertainties, even in an anecdote remembered correctly, yet exaggerated or misinformed at the time. I wonder if a better reporter from pre-integration days recalls, with evidence I don’t have, any early unpublicized, indeed, unmentioned, integrations in law and in theology?

  6. David Nolan says:

    Sarah Patton Boyle’s book “The Desegregated Heart” was my Bible when I went to UVa in the early 1960s. We had her speak for the Virginia Council on Human Relations chapter, and I remember sitting next to her at a memorial for President Kennedy after his assassination.
    Fast forward forty years to St. Augustine, Florida where I live and have been working to secure appreciation for the landmark civil rights battle that took place here in 1964. Lo and behold, I came across the name of Sarah Patton Boyle as one of those arrested in the demonstrations here that led directly to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In going through her papers at the UVa Library, I found a thick folder on St. Augustine, including an article she wrote called “Song of a Jailbird” in which she said “I regard my arrest as an honorary degree.” I couldn’t have agreed more, and when we established a permanently marked Freedom Trail of historic sites of the civil rights movement here, one of the markers was placed on the house where Sarah Patton Boyle stayed–when she wasn’t in the local jail. Appropriately, the cover of “The Desegregated Heart” is pictured on the marker.
    She is one of those people with whom I am proud to have shared a place and time.

  7. Thomas Ross says:

    I am sorry to say that Dean Woo’s published remarks here seem an inappropriate way to mark this holiday.

    First, these remarks skip over the terrible and shameful story of the University’s resistance to meaningful racial integration throughout the 1950′s and into the 1960′s. The College she now presides over fought to maintain its all White status until 1961 and then allowed a single Black student admission only in response to litigation. Through the early 1960′s the College’s admission policies remained racially exclusionary and it would not be until the late 1960′s that meaningful numbers of young Black men began to be admitted. (I say “Black men” because the College, again shamefully, did not yield to demands for co-education until 1970.) I feel there is much to be proud of as an alumnus of the College but this part of its history must not be glossed over- especially on the day we honor Dr. King.

    I also think it unfortunate that these remarks focus almost entirely on the story and virtues of a White southern liberal, however admirable her efforts. I would suggest that on this day we would do better to reflect on the words of Dr. King himself, or perhaps we might honor the courage of those other remarkable Virginians, namely, the young Black men who were willing to enter the racially hostile community of the University of the 1960′s so that they might realize the Constitutional rights that the University had for so long sought to deny to them?

    Thank you for taking the time to consider my thoughts on this matter.

    Tom Ross
    (College 1971, Law 1974)

  8. Emily Hodge, CLAS/EDUC '06; GSAS '07 says:

    Dean Woo, thank you so much for sharing this reflection on one of my favorite books, first introduced to me as a first year student in “20th Century South” with Dr. Scot French. Sarah Patton Boyle’s narrative of her childhood as a member of a First Family of Virginia, and especially her description of the marked shift in behavior towards African Americans that was expected from her when she hit puberty, make this the best text I have ever read for gaining insight into the mindset of this time period. I have shared it with my own students, and it influenced my current research into school desegregation as a PhD student in education policy. Thank you for sharing this text, and your always eloquent reflections, today.

  9. James Wyckoff says:

    I attended the recent talk at the NYC Virginia alumni club by Julian Bond, one of my heroes. Entering Virginia the fall of 1969, with the first hundred female students, I wondered if there were any social ills left, any dragons to slay. Our age, my youth, my gggeneration, had conquered poverty, racism, sexism. Then, in the spring of 1970, as we burned from tear gas, confronted with the dobermans of the status quo, we saw that each age has its dragons, each its heroes.

  10. I am thankful that the University of Virginia has moved from the background to the forefront of higher education, in terms of reputation, accomplishment and public position. By that last term I mean that the University will now take a public stand in support of laws and commitments that are true and right for our nation—not just for our state or region. Thomas Jefferson did that in writing the Declaration of Independence. No one knows for sure all that Jefferson had in mind for his university; however, it is abundantly clear that he had evolving, international ambitions for its academic influence. The 21st century is the time of fruition—for attracting diverse students, multicultural faculty and recognized artistic and scientific practitioners. These steps began 50 years ago with William Faulkner as writer in residence; today there is no turning back from international leadership. As Mr. Jefferson the Francophile might have said, Vive la difference!

  11. Edward Real says:

    It would be well to remember also UVA alumnus Harry Jordan, who as a teacher in the Charlottesville schools defied the “Massive Resistance” policy of school segregation when Charlottesville was ordered to integrate. Instead of leaving the system and allowing the schools to close, he remained and taught the two black students in every subject, at considerable risk to himself.

  12. David J Freund says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful story of an exceptional person. Too bad, however, that the yesterday’s praiseworthy spirit of integration has morphed into today’s controversies re: affirmative action, quotas, reverse discrimation, etc.

  13. Terry Birkel (CAS 1969) says:

    The difficult passage of the University, reflecting that of the Commonwealth (and the Nation), from the dismal self-imposed cultural isolation I experienced in the mid 1960′s, to its becoming a model nationwide in the education of economic and racial minorities (not to mention women) is the real story and one about which all those who love this place can justifiably be proud. The dearth of leadership and courage then has been replaced by a quiet generosity of spirit and tolerance in providing educational opportunities for all who seek to learn at this unique place, an attribute so very Jeffersonian in its core. Much of that leadership has and will be provided by women, and Sarah Boyle’s story is one well worth recalling as the University continues its own journey.

  14. Brawner Cates says:

    As always Dr.Woo many thanks for a very appropriate essay on a day when all Americans should be living up to MLK’s Dream so eloquently expressed at the Lincoln Memorial.There is a 5-10 minute piece of fascinating history in Kevin Edds new DVD Wahoowa A history of Cavalier Football that will make all Virginians proud.Harvard brought a football team to Scott stadium in 1947 to play Virginia.Chester Pierce an African American played tackle for Harvard at that time.The guys from Harvard were very concerned for his safety from all they had heard about the south&race relations.Charlottesville&UVA did itself proud that day as Pierce was warmly recieved by the whole community(Bobby Kennedy UVA Law was on that Harvard football team).I think integration in Virginia would have proceeded much faster if the political leadership had been there.From this incident in 1947 it seems the people were probably ahead of their leaders.

  15. Maury Brown says:

    Thanks for posting the story of Sarah Patton Boyle and bringing it to our attention on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Too often, I think, this day becomes *solely* about celebrating Dr. King, his dream, or his contribution to the Civil Rights movement and American History. What Sarah Patton Boyle’s story brings up, for me, is the struggle that continues to exist in the U.S. as we attempt to “remake our hearts” to realize Dr. King’s dream. As Boyle discovered, this is neither easy nor quick. It is a journey of self-examination on a personal and a societal scale. A journey that takes time, as well as the willingness, and the space, to both dialogue with others and reflect on our own ideas and traditions.

    To me, MLK Day is the day to reflect on that journey, and to examine our own hearts. Is a person judged by the content of his/her character and not the color of his/her skin today? Have we moved beyond blatant racism or past sympathetic paternalism that still has racist assumptions at its core?

    We are not there yet. But we are making progress.

    I attended the University as an undergraduate in the late 1980′s. As the “Minority Beat” reporter for The Cavalier Daily, I attended meetings of both the Council of Black Student Leaders and the Black Student Alliance. Both groups were fighting to bring true integration into UVa student leadership, and both groups struggled against each other for who had the right and responsibility to “speak for” the black students. I was aghast as the University again became a hotbed of racial controversy when Gov. Wilder was elected and racist signs appeared by the Comm School and on Rugby Road. I personally worked to get out of my “comfort zone,” like Sarah Patton Boyle, by being the Minority Beat reporter, processing the feelings of being the only white person in a room and feeling the weight of the responsibility to “tell the story right” even as an outsider trying to understand. It was important to me as a white Virginian who had gone through four years of high school without a single black peer in any of my classes.

    Twenty years later, I truly thought we were moving beyond racism in this country, and I was feeling comfortable in my own apparent lack of prejudice. Then two things happened.

    1 – While driving to Richmond in 2008 with my two teenagers in the car, a passing car started driving aggressively and erratically around me. It tailgated me, then pulled up alongside and matched my speed. I looked over at the car, and the passenger was holding up a sign he had just scrawled on notebook paper that read “Nigger Lover.” I was puzzled, until I remembered I had an Obama magnet on my car. When I didn’t give a reaction, the car cut in front of me, slammed on its brakes, and then pulled over to the right of me, slowing down again, with the driver now holding the sign. I told my teenagers not to react, to keep looking straight ahead. The car pulled off the next exit. I was so shaken by the incident, not only because it was “in my face” proof that racism is still rampant, but also because the driver and passenger were young people. I had naively thought that only older people, people who grew up being taught a certain way, people who grew up before integration was an uncontested normality, were the only people who still thought like that. Clearly, I was very, very wrong, insulated in my own “liberalism” and out of touch with a very vivid reality for so many people.

    2- I relayed that story to a black colleague of mine, who, unlike me, was not surprised at all. He went on to tell me that here, in Charlottesville, our supposed bastion of liberalism, he had endured similar incidents. He is successful, has advanced degrees, dresses well and drives an expensive car. He related how he and his wife are sat at drafty tables by the door or kitchen in restaurants, ignored by wait-staff, and how they have been told there are no tables available only to have a white couple come in behind them and be seated, also without reservations. How people have told him it “isn’t right” for him to have so much success, and that he only earned it because he is black. No matter that he put himself through school, persevered to earn a doctorate, or is the only person from his family to attend school and rise above poverty. Only preconceived notions, jealousy, and quiet condemnation. Right now, right here in Charlottesville.

    The best that any one of us can do is to be like Sarah Patton Boyle. Examine our own hearts. Reach out to those who are different from us. True integration is possible, but the conversation has to continue and hearts still have to be remade.

    Thank you, Sarah Patton Boyle, the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Dean Woo for reminding us.

  16. Gregorio Casar says:

    some facts:

    1) over 85% of UVa faculty are white. Less than 3.5% are black.

    2) over 50% of service and maintenance workers at our school are black. Many of them are women with children, being paid $10 an hour (or less, if they are outsourced to a private company); many leave for their second jobs during the afternoon. Although the benefits UVa provides are very helpful to many of these employees and Charlottesville natives, they are often not enough to keep them from needing food stamps. And if these employees are outsourced by the University, they may not receive health benefits at all.

    3) The bonuses of UVa’s highest paid employees last year ($20,000+ bonuses on $700,000/year salaries) exceed the entire yearly earnings of many workers who are an essential part of our school’s functioning and the Charlottesville community.

    4) The University built Old Cabell Hall although it was against Thomas Jefferson’s original wishes; Mr. Jefferson wanted the view from the Lawn to not be blocked off. However, a community of free African-Americans (who worked at the school) lived just South of the Lawn, so the designers of Old Cabell thought it would be convenient to block the ugliness out. Some people call it comfort, others separation, others segregation. Dr. King called it injustice and oppression.

  17. Rich Robins says:

    Didn’t Dr. King say we should judge folks by the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Then how about striving for a color-blind society, by finally abolishing raced-based admissions, hiring and govt. contracting quotas?

  18. Thank you for your useful comments so appropriate for the day. I knew well both Sarah Patton Boyle and Chester Pierce – so I am especially pleased to see them remembered. Boyle and I served together on a racial commission of the Episcopal Church, 1962-64. I marveled at both her deep insights into how racism worked and her unmatched honesty in discussing her own involvements. I, too, am a Virginian who recalls all too well the times she described. I was a student at U.Va. in 1950 when Gregory Swanson entered. I recall how my hometown newspapers in Richmond predicted, indeed almost called for, racist resistance when he was to show up. To the University’s credit, no such resistance occurred. I knew Pierce at Harvard; he went on to become a famous psychiatrist and influential author. His memories of that football game at the dear old U.Va., as best I recall, were not nearly as warm as Brawner Cates implies.

    Thank you again.

    Thomas F. Pettigrew, BA., psychology, 1952

  19. Sam Pettway says:

    I studied under Roger Boyle in the 1960s and early 70s but do not recall having had the privilege of meeting his wife (although I may have been simply too self-focused to notice). Your article adds a whole new perspective on this gentle man. Thank you for sharing it, especially today.

  20. Tom Gardner says:

    Good to hear from David Nolan. He introduced me to Sarah Patton Boyle’s important book in my first year at U.Va. (1964) as we worked together to further desegregate the University and organize for the Virginia Students Civil Rights Committee, which brought together black and white students from across the state to work in Southside on voter registration and a host of issues. Her book, along with ones by James McBride Dabbs, C. Vann Woodward, and others we learned of from history professors Paul Gaston and Willie Lee Rose all became inspirational capital for us young white Southerners looking for antecedents in the effort to overcome Jim Crow and its powerful vestiges in C’ville, the Univ. and beyond. Paul Gaston’s recent memoir tells some of the story. His former doctoral student, Gregg Michel, tells some more of the story in his history of the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC). I and others donated papers at Gregg’s solicitation to the social movements collection at Alderman that fill in more of the story.
    Another person here said we should be proud of the progress the University has made. I am proud to have been part of the struggle to break down the barriers of race and gender that helped us get to this point, proud of all those who were part of doing that (and there were and still are many), and mainly in awe of and proud of those first African-American students who suffered through the daily insults and stupidities of so many around them. The cost was high and they are owed more than our gratitude, but certainly that.

  21. Psyche Williams-Forson says:

    On this, the evening of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I cannot help but echo the sentiments of many who have written before me. As a member of CLAS ’87, one of my most stark memories of Mr. Jefferson’s University is being placed in the then all-white dorm of Bonnycastle. As I later learned, it was considered the “legacy dorm” where students and parents could request residence because they did not want their children associating with “other” races. I recall the days and nights of loneliness as I was sometimes the only person on my floor–indeed the building–because others had gone off to culturally familiar activities, and yet I remained uninvited. I tried to reach out but what is an 18-year old Southern, rural girl to do?

    Determine to make a change…

    Join Black Voices (Pres – 1986-87), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Association of Black Campus Leadership, Residence Life and many other organizations and fight to make it so that no ONE – regardless of race, creed, or color ever experience such isolation and singleness.

    My work, like so many others (from then until now), continues…

  22. yuhua Li says:

    Thanks Dean Woo for reminding us this story and Dr.Martin Luther King…U S History…i ‘d learned a lots and post self in the real enviroment world today….to see and understood and living in this cultural and History backgroud world….Thanks for helping and courages in many ways…!

  23. Brandon (College 2005) says:

    Dean Woo,

    In your last sentence above, you ask us to “pause to consider what has, and has not, been achieved since they were written fifty-six years ago.”

    Clearly not enough has changed because of the word you use in the second sentence–”black.” Why do you have to give Mr. Swanson a racial label? Why do you have to drop him into a category based on something that he had no control over? Why continue the same practices of distinction based on skin color that the racists use?

    I really have to wonder when UVA Administrators are going to cease separating its students based on an artificial conception of “race.” When Administrators cease doing so, Dr. King’s mission has not succeeded.

  24. Paige Hargroves Goodpasture says:

    Dean Woo, Thank you for your wonderful essay. I graduated from U.Va. with a degree in history in 1988. I loved my classes in Southern History, taught by Ed Ayers and Paul Gaston. I was a Richmond girl who was never taught about segregation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. The subject of my undergraduate thesis was Alice Jackson. Your piece brought back wonderful memories of my intellectual awakening at U.Va., and introduced me to another brave Virginia woman like Alice Jackson, who was learning as she went, much as I was during my time in Charlottesville. I look forward to your future posts. Warmly, Paige Hargroves Goodpasture, COL ’88, LAW ’92, EDUC ’98

  25. Sean Pierre Chambers says:

    Here’s to Ron and Cassandra Simmons, husband and wife tag team in the 80s/90s as Assoc. Provost for Student Academic Support and OCPP Minority Career Day developer (who got so many black students opportunities for awesome corporate positions during those years, and gave us training and confidence in finding jobs and admission to grad schools). They’d help any student of any background (and did), but they were special, classy, effective: black and proud.

    Skilled and sharp write up, Dean; thanks. Good way to mark the day (an idea supported by the range of viewpoints/reactions posted in reply so far). You show what the process of heart-change could look like – and it’s a process. (I like your line, Dean, “She was utterly baffled when Swanson reacted coolly, rather than gratefully, to her essay.” Many of us have faced that sort of reaction a time or two in Cville.)

    Some great goals to mention on this day: For the College and University to expand its undergraduate AND graduate numbers of African American students – so crucial to my development as a coming-of-age black young adult in the 80s and 90s – and to have the university be a leader in the national and international mission for us to increase black faculty numbers so as to represent a great range of rich black political and social thought.

    PS. I also liked “getting the facts right before she proceeded to upset the apple cart.” Dunno if she (Boyle) really did that to such an extent, but there’s a message in that line I think you meant to deliver…a good one for all to hear, to heed.

  26. Mickey McCall says:

    I read a few of the replies posted and have to express my disappointment in the negative spirit shown on today of all days. Dr. King’s beliefs and philosophies were certainly more positive toward his fellow men, especially in the context of how we live and work with each other.

    I was happy to receive Dean Woo’s email with the information on Gregory Swanson and Sarah Patton Boyle. Thanks to this notification I will research more on The University during that time period, Mr. Swanson, and will read Mrs. Boyle’s book. I am also forwarding a copy of Dean Woo’s email to several friends (also University alums) who are of different races, but have like-minded attitudes when it comes to tolerance.

  27. Mike Perry says:

    Glad to receive this. I graduated in 1976 at a time when President Frank Hereford refused to drop his membership in the all-white Farmington Country Club. What a signal that sent.

    Of course UVa had only admitted women on an equal basis in 1970 under court order, two years before I entered, which is unbelievable when you think about it today.

    The University seems to be at a much better place from a social justice standpoint today, which is a great thing.

  28. Anthony Guy Lopez says:

    Thanks Dean Woo for sharing this important aspect of U.Va. history. It reminds us how far we’ve come, yet can I offer something here to show us how far we have yet to go? After 25 years of celebrating Dr. King’s Dream for America, U.Va. has no academic programs, institutes or research centers pertaining specifically to Native American scholarship. Neither are there minor or major degree programs, endowed faculty chairs or lecture series devoted to American Indian knowledges. No one at the University knows who was the first American Indian graduate. There is no one who employed at to U.Va. to remind us of who was the first American Indian to live on the Lawn; there is no endowed lecture memorializing the first American Indian Ph.D. graduate at U.Va.. The University doesn’t keep track of such things, nor does it have any plans to do so in the future. The current policies of U.Va. are on a trajectory that actually discriminates against American Indians in terms of admissions as the admission-offer rate for Native Americans is the lowest of any ethnic group that U.Va. tracks. This factor alone is probably the most significant factor hampering development of the American Indian community at U.Va. From 2000 to 2008, U.Va. has offered admission to 22 percent of American Indians who apply. By comparison during the same time period, U.Va. offered admission to 62 percent of African-American students. In terms of all students, 39 percent of applicants overall were offered admission. Add to this the sad fact that U.Va. has no tenured American Indian faculty members and perhaps it never has in its entire history. I would just ask us to pause and reflect on this, what does it mean for our University that American Indians could be so excluded, so completely, with so little notice or will to change for the better?

    Anthony Guy Lopez (M.A. Anthropology 2009)

  29. Your comment, “I read a few of the replies posted and have to express my disappointment in the negative spirit shown on today of all days,” does not seem justified. I see people in their comments being honest, thoughtful and concerned about UVa’s racial activities, makeup and weaknesses. The U. is far from “there” in racial matters, but admin/faculty/students seem to be working daily to move toward a fully integrated community. For years (1865-1950?) UVa was more like Scarlett O’Hara–in complete denial–but not so today. Send me an email () and I’ll send you a chapter (free) from my book, “On Scholarship,” that talks about UVa under John Casteen: “Leading to Diversity.” It ends:

    “John Casteen also knows that achieving full diversity is more than just “the latest” of societal challenges for institutions to meet. He knows that diversity is a new source of strength for the University—just as it is for our nation. I am thankful that his vision has been built upon diversity and inclusiveness. While the University of Virginia may have taken longer to reach this position of total commitment to diversity, the unfolding results are solid and will be a firm foundation for generations to come. Here too, the University imitates the continued advancement of American society.

    “President John T. Casteen III has effectively advanced the objectives of his distinguished predecessors in the University’s leadership, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, the remarkable founder of the institution. Casteen has also set high standards and opened new opportunities for those who follow after him, in all categories—students, faculty, administrators and alumni—when he steps down in August 2010.”

    Now UVa has a highly qualified new president–and a remarkably astute dean in Meredith Woo–to take progress in diversity–and in other areas–to a new level.

  30. Rodney Hopson says:

    Thanks, Dean Woo, for your weighing into King Day and helping to remind us of a great man and legacy.

    I’m a 4-time Hoo (87, 90, 96, and 97) and I’m reminded by the sentiments of many who posted who both reflect on the meaning of King and the meaning of King on UVa.

    Having read the lead and the posts, I’d take the position like Thomas Ross does above and wonder if the real heroes and heroines of this segregated past aren’t those who were kicked and assaulted, denigrated and humiliated for attempting to school at the University (or other universities in the south) during a period of time we’d rather forget than remember.

    It’s a remarkable thing to read of one Sarah Patton Boyle (and it’s likely she was quite courageous for speaking out against a caste she herself was member); though as I read, I couldn’t help but think that for every one Sarah Patton Boyle, there were several Gregory Swansons and even more Alice Jacksons who couldn’t even eat in the same dining room as Boyle. Unquestionably, there’s work still to do and the posts above only signal that this work and legacy of Dr. King lays unfulfilled like the principles of this country. A start would be to uncover the tremendous and tireless work of those who were courageous despite the dejure segregation that permeated the country.

    Last night, our family watched a special on the untold story of Emmet Till. More on this untold story can be found at: It was our way of reflecting on the legacy and promise of Dr. King and as a reminder to the pathetic way this story has played out and largely goes incomplete. The good news is that, like the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy, many won’t sleep until justice is served.

    A luta continua!

  31. Meredith Woo says:


    The College homepage has linked to a fascinating short film about Alice Jackson, the first African American scholar to apply to U.Va. We are also commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through nearly two dozen events, lectures and screenings that extend through Jan. 27. The events have been organized by the College and other university professors, staff and members of the Charlottesville community. Highlights include a discussion of King’s 1963 visit to Grounds by historian and College professor emeritus Paul Gaston, our alumnus Wesley Harris, and community member Eugene Williams on Jan. 25. Also on the 25th, College professors Larry Sabato and Julian Bond will introduce a free screening of the documentary film, “Freedom Riders,” at the Paramount Theater. Full details are on the University’s Community MLK Celebration web site.

    Also a class was held today at the Albemarle/Charlottesville Regional Jail on King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Deborah McDowell, Director of the College’s Carter G. Woodson Institute. She has chosen to honor his memory by providing a day of service to those whom King termed the “desperate, rejected, and angry young men.” Obviously she couldn’t make this event open to the public, but the event was meaningful in more ways than one.

  32. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Rodney,

    Thank you for sending the link to the Emmet Till story. My short essay was a reflection on the changes brought on by the arrival on Grounds of Gregory Swanson–and in this case, in the heart and mind of a Virginian. She took a lot of abuse for advocating integration, and I wanted us to remember her courage.

    As you can see in my response to Tom Ross, for the next two weeks the College will be exploring Martin Luther King Jr.’ s legacy in many different ways. I think you will like the short video on the bottom right of the College home page.

  33. Whitney Davis Collins says:

    Maybe I am misunderstanding your comments, but I believe Dean Woo probably gave Mr. Swanson a “racial label” because she was trying to explain the significance of suit. None of us has control over what color our skin is, but this does not mean that our skin has no color. The problem is not with *making* a distinction among colors; indeed one cannot help but notice when another looks physically different. The problem is when we notice this difference and because of it, we automatically change our behavior towards another person. It sounds to me, and forgive me if I am reading you incorrectly, that you would have people be color-blind. Color-blindness might sound like equality to you, but how boring is that not to notice the beautiful hues of humanity? We can see color- all kinds of different colors and cultures and people- we can notice it without, as you say, dropping someone into a category that “racists use.” This seems extreme to me. Difference, noted difference, is only a bad thing when we discriminate because of it. If we acknowledge it, respect it, and want to learn more about it this helps us to understand others and the world around us. This helps our hearts and minds to grow and change for the better.

  34. Whitney Davis Collins says:

    I wanted to add after reading through all the comments that it is wonderful that we can have a dialogue about our history, specifically one dealing with race. I’d love to see even more comments. I hope that there is a diversity among the contributors that will add to the authenticity of the dialogue. Lastly, I am so proud that, while not everyone agreed, everyone spoke respectfully and sincerely. Discussion will help us understand and understanding can erase fears and prejudice. When we can move in this direction, we are definitely honoring Dr. King’s memory. Go Hoos!

  35. Tony Hill says:

    As a graduate of CAS, class of 1976, I recall the then President Frank Hereford, opting to attend the 3 Penny Opera instead of an important meeting with black students and faculty @ the Old Cabell Hall. In protest, a group of black students marched to Hereford’s residence to hold our meeting there and outlined the major concerns affecting black students at UVA.

    It is good that unfortunate and unjust circumstances transformed the heart of Sarah Patton Boyle. However, I believe that this holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King is best commemorated at UVA by acknowledging those who challenged the status quo, those who came before me and endured much more than I, and those who echoed the sentiment of Dr. King that we should be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.

  36. Mortimer Caplin says:

    Meredith, a beautiful and moving piece “on the way it was” in 1950. After WW II and my turn at Wall Street law practice, I had just returned to U .Va. as professor of law. At an early faculty meeting, we considered Gregory Swanson’s application for admission as a graduate student. There was no doubt at all– 100% of the faculty voted immediately in his favor. One problem remained, however: the Board Visitors had directed that no black student be admiitted without BOV approval. It was not long thereafter that the faculty decision was overturned

    In the federal law suit brought on Swanson’s behalf, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit assembled at the Charlottesville Federal court house, where Circuit Judge Armistead M. Dobie kept his chambers. Judge Dobie– former U.Va. Law dean, for whom I had served as 1940-41 law clerk –invited me to attend what sounded like intensely interesting hearings. The other two judges on the 4th Circuit had come some distance–Judge Morris Soper from Baltimore and Chief Judge John J. Parker from Charlotte, N.C. The tightly crowded courtroom anxiously awaited the the give-and-take of the lawyers, but unanticipated the entire troop suddenly gathered around the judges’ bench, mumbled privately and soon declared an agreement to admit Gregory Swanson to U.Va. law school! Judge Dobie was furious–not with the result, but at the lawyers’ clumsy procedure that required Dobie’s colleagues to make an unnecessary trip not requiring any significant judicial activity. Correspondence and a few signatures would have sufficed.

    Yet, everything became clear next morning. Newspapers throughout Virginia and elsewhere carried headlines blaring: “Federal court compels U.Va. to admit black student!” In the climate of that day, four years before Brown v. Board of Education, a southern state university dared not do otherwise voluntarily.

  37. James wyckoff says:

    I suggest, and have done so for years that we use the Pantone Matching System used in color printing, to describe one another’s skin color if we must. Frankly, our differences are not obvious, but artificial.

  38. Brawner Cates says:

    You should buy the DVD and enjoy the history so well documented. Harvard lost that day 47-0. That may have impacted Dr. Pierce’s memories of the day. There are also some great comments in the documentary by Jim Bakhtiar describing some of his treatment on the gridiron as a result of carrying the nicknames “The Plunging Persian & The Persian Prince” Interesting that Jim Bakhtiar also ended up a psychiatrist 10-15 years later after playing football in Canada to earn money for medical school. Brawner Cates, BA, Psychology, 1967

  39. David Weiss says:

    Dear Dean Woo:

    An alumnus sent me a note about your recent item about Patty Boyle and her book. I came to the faculty of Speech and Drama, as it was back then, in 1954. (I remained on the faculty of what became the Drama Department after I requested a divorce from Speech, chaired it for total of seventeen years, and retired in 1991.) Patty was a remarkable woman who did so much to make me feel welcome when I arrived here. That spring she had written an article for the Saturday Evening Post that they, the Post, titled “Southerners Will Like Integration.” Mind you, this was in 1954! You can imagine what a stir that caused. She would get nasty calls in the middle of the night, often from people who had only read the title, not the article, which was much more reasonable than the title and didn’t really make a case for anyone to like integration but rather encouraged them to accept it. When I arrived one night in August, after driving in from Wisconsin, Patty prepared a lovely dinner for me. As I walked in the door of the Boyle home the first thing I saw was a charred cross that had been burned on their lawn not long before. Later another one appeared. She was rather proud of those crosses because they proved that she was being heard.

    Roger and Patty were a happy couple but lived very different lives–she would get up to write at 3:00 or 4:00 AM because no one would bother her then and Roger, coming home from rehearsals, often didn’t go to bed until 1:00 AM–so when their two boys had grown up they divorced. They kept in touch for the rest of their lives and Roger and Marie and then Roger and Stacy (after Marie died) would spend Christmas with Patty in Northern Virginia. Patty continued to be an active fighter of all kinds of injustice all her life. I loved talking with her not only because of her intelligent discourse but because she had a really wonderful, very cultured, Southern accent.

    Thanks for bringing her to the attention of a generation that has not heard of this quite remarkable woman. She was Southern to the core but when it came to injustice she just couldn’t abide what was so common among her peers. Patty was in the fight long before many others in the white community began to speak out. It’s wonderful to remember her.

    Cordially, David

  40. Kim Ridley says:

    I appreciate reading this article and reflecting on the issues of race in the present. I think white people continue to have an impoverished understanding of how racism actually operates in the post-civil-rights era. More importantly, I find that many white people have limited exposure to our racial history, as well as a limited understanding of how the past impacts the present day experiences of many African Americans. You don’t hear discussions about “institutionalized racism,” whose processes disproportionately imprison, and fail to provide equal housing, educational and employment opportunities or adequate health care for, people of color, in 2011.

  41. Terry Birkel says:

    I have known Mort Caplin for years but never heard this fascinating story before, and relished the teaching and directorship of David Weiss ( I was a dancing a sailor in the 1969 production of Anything Goes, and , Mort will like this- went directly from dress rehearsal one evening with makeup still on to Mem Gym to compete in the 141 pound IM boxing championship). Reading these wonderful behind the scenes recollections and having just savoured Paul Gatson’s new book, I wonder if a project to collect the oral history of those involved in the aspect of the University’s journey could be brought about.

  42. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Terry:

    Thank you for sharing this. Early discussions are now under way about a new University history to be published in time for the bicentennial in 2018. I will be sure these stories are part of it.

  43. Angechew Nasignapenalon says:

    These two “different things,” racism and ethnocentrism can have the exact same effect. For example translated to something other than race: Imagine you are a man and you think you are better than women. You are a sexist. You think your group, your gender is better and therefor expect more for your group. It is very similar with race. An ethnic group who believes that they are superior to others is included in the realm of racism. The term ethnocentrism just defines a specific aspect of something that is almost inherent in racist ideas (that one’s group is better or superior to others’).
    So a white supremacist isn’t racist, just ethnocentric, which is harmless? Not understanding your comment very well.

  44. Chris Haberland says:

    The fact is that this is idealism, and that this has not come to pass in all aspects of our society. Where there is affirmative action, there is estimated compensation for the societal and psychological damage that has afflicted a historically and still presently discriminated people as a whole. The fact is is that equal opportunity does not just mean equal admissions for jobs and college acceptances.

  45. Janet Brown says:

    Thank you Anthony for your very astute observation.

    When I entered UVA in 1979 and until I left in 1983 I knew only one student who self identified as American Indian.

    I found this strange because U.S.history ‘celebrates’ the connection between early European settlers and American Indian communities in Virginia.

    Yet reality the state (and its institutions) have been very slow to recognized Virginia tribes as only a few were beginning to be recognized in 1983.

    Federal recognition has been slow or nonexistent as well :

    How odd and paradoxical given the pivotal historical role of American Indians in Virginia. The ‘invisibility is palpable and I commend you for bringing to light the situation.


    Janet Brown
    African American, UVA graduate, CAS 1983.

  46. I read this fascinating personal account a few weeks ago – I am glad that you have reminded people about it. How different things might have been if people like Ms. Boyle had spoken for justice earlier. By the way, the Desegrated Heart is included in my posted list of books regarding 20th Century Virginia history.

  47. Paul Howard says:

    This article was a very pleasant surprise. I have wondered for years about Gregory Swanson’s carrier and even if he is living. I would be grateful for information.

    He and I became friends shortly after he arrived at U.Va. I had a room on the Lawn where he frequently visited and we often ate at the Commons. We had many adventures together and never had to deal with any hostility even when we attended the Methodist Church on Easter Sunday.