Fifty Years Later: An Archival Look at the 1971 Virginia Constitution

Introduction

Law Special Collections recently installed Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971 in the lobby of the Law Library. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 Virginia Constitution, the exhibitprovides a retrospective look at Virginia’s Commission on Constitutional Revision through the work of UVA Law professor and constitutional law expert A. E. Dick Howard (’61). Howard served as executive director of the Commission, an appointment he received from Commission chair and former Virginia governor Albertis Harrison Jr. in February 1968. The materials in the exhibit are curated from Howard’s personal papers, which he donated to Law Special Collections in 1981.  

Forming the Commission

In 1968, Law Professor A. E. Dick Howard (’61) began work as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision, charged with overhauling Virginia’s supreme legal document. In the wake of massive resistance to school integration, Howard and the Commission set out to revise the 1902 Virginia Constitution, which disenfranchised many Black Virginians and explicitly outlawed racial integration in state schools.  

Howard undertook the formidable task of administering the work of the Commission, which consisted of ten members and a chair. The commissioners were highly visible legal and political figures, chosen for their stature in the Commonwealth. They included, among others, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr., civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, former UVA president and Virginia governor Colgate Darden, and Law School Dean Hardy Dillard (’27). 

Pictured are several members of the Commission in Williamsburg, 1969: (left to right) Davis Paschall, Ted Dalton, Alexander Harman Jr., Colgate Darden Jr., Lewis Powell Jr., Albert Bryan Jr., Oliver Hill, and Hardy Dillard.

The Revision Process

Following a lengthy study of recent constitutional revisions in other states, Howard proposed a plan of operation and a timetable for the work of the Commission. He divided the Commission into five subcommittees, each of which was headed by a counsel and series of advisors. Counsels were chosen from faculty at Virginia’s four law schools—including UVA Law Professor Peter Low—and from prominent attorneys in private practice, like Jack Spain JrThe Commission tasked the five subcommittees with recommending revisions to assigned focus areas: Bill of Rights, Franchise, Apportionment, and Education; Taxation and Finance; Legislature and Judiciary; Executive and Corporations; and Local Government.  

Here at the Law School, the Virginia Law Weekly covered the stages of the constitutional revision process, with particular emphasis on the involvement of UVA Law professors and students. During the summer of 1968, the Commission hired eighteen law students as research associates to assist the five subcommittees. Twelve of the eighteen associates were from UVA Law. Frances Farmer, UVA Law Librarian and first female Law faculty member, was appointed as Librarian to the Commission at Howard’s request.

Commission meetings took place at various locations across the state, including Charlottesville. Commission members and counsels are pictured here on the steps of Clark Hall, home of the UVA Law School at the time. The eighteen-person group of Commissioners and counsels included eight UVA Law alums.

The Commission submitted its final report to Governor Mills Godwin and the General Assembly in January 1969. Howard acted as special counsel to the Special Session of the General Assembly charged with amending the constitution in light of the Commission’s proposals. Virginia law required that amendments to the existing constitution be ratified by two sessions of the General Assembly and then submitted to the people in the form of referenda. As special counsel, Howard interpreted the Commission proposals to the Assembly, attended committee meetings, met individually with Assembly members, provided constitutional advice, and finally re-wrote each proposed revision in terms acceptable to both houses of the General Assembly.  

Building Support for Ratification

Former governor and Commission chair Albertis Harrison Jr. presents the final report to Governor Mills Godwin Jr., January 1969.

After Howard and the Committee submitted their revisions to the General Assembly in 1969, Howard set off on a tour around Virginia to encourage public support for the new constitution.  

Four proposals related to amending Virginia’s Constitution were put on the ballot for Virginians to vote upon in November 1970: passage of the main body of the constitution, the potential legalization of lotteries by the Assembly, and two matters pertaining to bond financing. Howard’s speaking engagements created a space for citizens to ask questions and express concerns about the four proposals. 

Howard is pictured here at an open forum in Richmond, Virginia in 1970.

Voters passed the revised constitution with a 72% majority. The other provisions passed by 63% or higher. The new constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, remains in force today and includes a non-discrimination clause as well as guaranteed state and local funding for public education, among other provisions.  

Professor Howard Revisits His Collection

Howard views items on display from his collection.

On September 20, 2021, Professor Howard—who still teaches constitutional law—stopped by the library to view materials from his collections. Howard assisted in the curatorial process, loaning two items including a testimonial given to him by Governor Ralph Northam on the fiftieth anniversary of ratification (on display) as well as a certificate from members of the Commission (featured here). We asked Professor Howard why he donated the materials to the UVA Law Library. He said he felt strongly that the records should be preserved. Howard also noted that much of the work of constitutional revision was completed here since the Law School’s faculty, students, and librarians were involved in the process from the beginning. Most important, Howard was confident library staff would take great care of the materials: “I had so much respect for the work of this law library that I knew my colleagues here would do a first-class job of collecting and curating and making the collection available.” 

We invite patrons to explore Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971, which will remain on display through December 2021.  

On January 11, 1969, during the final meeting of the Commission, the commissioners presented Howard with this certificate in recognition of his outstanding leadership and many contributions. Each commissioner signed the certificate, which now hangs in Howard’s office.

This post is indebted to the work of former archivist Marsha Trimble, who processed Howard’s papers in 1981 and wrote the original description, portions of which are featured here and in the exhibit.

Featured image: Dick Howard and Meggan Cashwell discuss the exhibit “Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971.” 20 September 2021.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

Meggan Cashwell

Meggan Cashwell is a postdoctoral research associate in legal history for UVA Law Special Collections. She is spearheading the library’s forthcoming edited history of legal education at the Law School (UVA Press).

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The Library’s Entryway Exhibit: Revisited

The Special Collections team is excited to announce the completed renovation of the Law Library’s Entryway Exhibit, which originally premiered in March 2014. The initial iteration as well as the current exhibit were designed by Gropen.

Since the exhibit’s opening, Special Collections has expanded its rare materials, research goals, and understanding of the Law School’s complex history, particularly as it relates to issues of slavery, discrimination, and diversity. The result is a new timeline (or “reader rail”), additional hanging images mounted on the wall, and a redesigned introduction panel which matches the University’s updated brand.

Color photograph of introductory panel to the entryway exhibit

The exhibit is divided between the themes “The Landscape” and “The Law,” inviting patrons to consider significant moments in the Law School’s past within the framework of its physical spaces. Classes were originally taught in the law professor’s residence on the Lawn. The school then moved several times before relocating to North Grounds in 1974. In addition, the exhibit covers Virginia Law’s evolving curriculum and major shifts in student life and culture.

Related Special Collections projects informed the bulk of the exhibit’s revisions, including ongoing research into how professors taught the laws of slavery during the antebellum period, explorations into the historical landscape of North Grounds, and the Law School curricular history book project headed by Postdoctoral Fellow Meggan Cashwell.

While the entryway guides the Law School’s students, faculty, and staff into the library and its resources, we encourage patrons to pause and explore the updated exhibit, and with it, UVA Law’s 200-year history.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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The Historical Landscape of North Grounds: Video Walking Tour

The Law School moved from Clark Hall to North Grounds in 1974, eleven years after UVA purchased the property to construct its JAG, Law, and Business schools.

But have you ever wondered what was here before the North Grounds complex? Law Special Collections has begun to research this question, and we are excited to announce the launch of our video walking tour which shares our research so far. Explore the website and watch the video here.

Color photograph of brick chimney in ruins.
Albemarle County’s first poor house (1806-1870) was located just behind today’s Law School. Ruins of the poor house superintendent’s house still stand alongside the Rivanna Trail.

Originally slated to be an in-person walking tour during Alumni Reunion, The Historical Landscape of North Grounds presents the multi-layered histories which make up the North Grounds landscape. To name a few, the property was once the site of Albemarle County’s first poor house, the home of the Duke Family and their enslaved laborers, and the location of Charlottesville’s first barbecue grounds.

Today, physical remnants of this landscape are made accessible by the Rivanna Trail. Archival material, archaeological research, and GIS mapping technologies provide greater insight into these histories as well as into the lives of the people who lived and labored here.

This project exemplifies Law Special Collections’ ongoing commitment to preserve and share the institutional history of the Law School, which includes the history of the landscape where the Law School now resides. This summer, we are eager to welcome to the project Jack MacLeod, UVA rising fourth year, who will continue this research as an intern with UVA’s Institute for Public History.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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Collaborative Storytelling: “50 Years of BLSA” Online Exhibit Now Live

Today marks the official launch of the Law Library’s online exhibit “50 Years of BLSA,” the product of a months-long collaboration between Law Special Collections and the Black Law Students Association at UVA Law. Explore the exhibit here.

On October 16, 1970, UVA Law’s Black students founded a chapter of the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA) to advocate for issues of racial justice. The founding priorities included increasing Black student enrollment, hiring Black faculty, and creating an engaged and welcoming environment at UVA Law.

The online exhibit provides a deep dive into BLSA’s founding and five decades of student activism, service, and community at the Law School. The site’s five sections (History, Service, Black Excellence, Reflections, and Gallery) share both the Law Library’s archival collections and BLSA’s resources.

Forming Partnerships with Student Groups

As BLSA’s 50th anniversary approached, Law Special Collections and the BLSA executive board agreed to collaborate on a project to exhibit BLSA’s history. We met frequently with Allison Burns ’22 (BLSA President) and Genesis Moore ’23 (BLSA Historian) to determine the content and layout of the site, and to exchange resources. We are thankful for their time and input.

Our collaboration with BLSA is Special Collections’ first direct collaboration with a student organization, and we are proud to launch what we hope to be a rich resource for those interested in the Law School’s history.

We look forward to future collaborations with other student groups to highlight the many histories and experiences that make up UVA Law.

Header image: BALSA Executive Board, 1971-1972.

From left to right, front row: Arthur C. McFarland ’73, Stephanie Valentine Carpenter ’73, and Charles E. Walker ’73.

Back row, Jerry Williams ’73, Leroy W. Bannister ’73, Bobby Vassar ’72, and John W. Scott, Jr. ’73, pictured in 1971, Records of the Virginia Law Weekly.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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The Law Library Celebrates Fifty Years of BLSA

Fifty years ago, on Friday, October 16, 1970, UVA Law’s Black students formed the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA), a chapter of the National Black Law Students Association. BLSA addressed the growing need for a formal body to voice racial and equity concerns, both at UVA Law and within the Charlottesville community, and establish lasting solutions. In 1970, BLSA members advocated for greater recruitment efforts to increase the number of Black students at the Law School and for greater transparency in the faculty hiring process. At the time, there was not a single Black person on the Law faculty. 

Front page of the Virginia Law Weekly, 23 October 1970. The headline on the left reads "Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum."
Image Courtesy Virginia Law Weekly.

UVA Law hired its first Black professor, Larry Gibson, in 1972 due in large part to BLSA’s persistent advocacy and strong leadership. To learn more about BLSA’s resilient efforts to increase diversity at UVA Law during its first decade, check out this Spring 2018 article from the UVA Lawyer.

Larry Gibson, Law Professor at UVA from 1972 to 1974.

Through the years, BLSA has pushed for change beyond faculty hiring and student recruitment. BLSA has provided legal services for underserved members of the Charlottesville community, staged successful protests, boycotts, and teach-ins, addressed national issues, and collaborated with the Black Student Alliance, UVA’s undergraduate Black student coalition. As an advocate for racial justice at the Law School, BLSA has also served as a social and philanthropic organization that proudly represents the Law School while always holding it accountable. 

Today, the UVA Law Library Special Collections team is proud to announce our collaboration with BLSA to produce an online exhibit on the organization’s history, set to be released in February 2021 in conjunction with Black History Month. 

We encourage readers to explore BLSA’s social media to learn more about the organization’s history and discover their commemorative efforts and activities. Follow BLSA on Twitter @UVABLSA, find them on Facebook, and check out their website here. 

For further reading:

How BALSA Began, UVA Law News, 9 October 2020 

Photos from 50 Years of BLSA, UVA Law News, 13 October 2020  

UVA BLSA Wins Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Year, 20 February 2020 

Black Law Students Mattered, UVA Lawyer, Spring 2018

UVA Law Special Collections Archives

Select articles from the Virginia Law Weekly [Requires Netbadge login]:

Letter from BLSA to the Editors denouncing implicit racism in editorial published in previous issue, 16 October 1970

Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum, 23 October 1970

Black Students Request Inquiry by Government, 24 March 1972

BALSA Aids Recruitment of Minorities to Law School, 3 November 1972

BALSA Stages Teach-In; Urges Boycott of Classes, 28 October 1983

Almost 200 Participate in Boycott, 18 November 1983

Robinson Proves You Can Go Home Again, 21 September 1984

BLSA urges divestiture of University funds, 15 February 1985

Focus on Diversity: Is U.Va. Doing Enough? A Call for Diversification, 13 April 1990

Mere Sacrifices: BLSA’s Contribution to the Community, 8 November 1996

BLSA Wins National Chapter of the Year Award, 4 April 2003


Header image: Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA) officers, 1974.

Back row, left to right: Ronald R. Wesley ’75, Kester I. Crosse ’75, and Dennis L. Montgomery ’75. 

Front row, left to right: Delores R. Boyd ’75, Jan Freeman ’75, and Sheila Jackson Lee ’75.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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