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.
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.
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.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of women’s matriculation at the law school.
To commemorate these two watershed moments in our history, the law library is proud to present the installation of two exhibits which are on display on the 1st and 2nd floors of the library.
100 Years of Coeducation provides a timeline of female history, struggle, activism, and triumph at UVA Law. The exhibit is composed of eight banners, two display cases with artifacts from the law library’s special collections department, and a rolling slideshow of 100 UVA alumnae in the lobby.
100 Years of Coeducation will be on display through the end of September.
The American Bar Association’s traveling exhibit, 100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future, will be on display on the 2nd floor of the library from September 1st through 14th.
In conjunction with these exhibits, we asked our female colleagues at the law library to share their voting stories with us. Here are some of their memories:
“Personally, I have to think about (remember….) my first voting experience. More strikingly I remember bringing my two daughters to vote with me in 2016. I think they were most impressed with the sticker afterwards, but I like to think the greater importance of the experience sank in just a little as well.”
Randi Flaherty Special Collections Librarian
“I grew up in a small town and when I went to vote in my first election, I was known by all the folks working the election. I was a bit intimidated by the ballot machine and worried that I would have to ask for help (why that worried me, I do not know). That evening, per family tradition, we went up to the courthouse to watch them write the vote tallies up on a big board as the counts came in from each precinct.”
Leslie Ashbrook Research Librarian
“Growing up, I always loved accompanying my parents to the polls. I took my duty as a kid voter very seriously, less due to my political leanings and more because of the sticker you get afterwards. I even talked to my friends about voting, going so far as to ask for whom they voted (a bold and perhaps inappropriate move).My first legitimate voting experience was in 2008 when Barack Obama won the first time. I don’t recall going to the polls, but I do remember staying up late and watching President Obama’s acceptance speech. As a then junior history major in college, I remember being honored to witness such a significant moment for our nation.”
Meggan Cashwell Postdoctoral Research Associate
“It’s been a while since my first time voting, so I don’t remember very much! Here’s what I do remember: The first election after my eighteenth birthday was a presidential primary. I’d registered as an independent, but I was excited about being able to vote, so I went in and cast a ballot on some local issues. The poll workers, two older women, were very encouraging and helped make it a positive experience.”
Kate Boudouris Research, Instruction, and Outreach Librarian
“What I remember about my first voting experience: Sophomore year in college I sat with my absentee ballot for the presidential election and remembered a high school conversation in which a [male] classmate questioned — “is that what you think or is that just what you hear your parents say?” At my dorm room desk I filled in a bubble, wondering if I would have chosen differently in high school and why.”
Kristin Glover Research Librarian
“In 2008, I was in 5th grade. My parents used to get the Washington Post, and in the “Kid’s Post” section there was a blank map of the electoral college that readers were encouraged to color in with red or blue as the results came in that evening. I tried to stay up to complete the map, but in the end, I had to go to bed before I could finish it.In 2012, when I was in middle school, election day was a holiday. My orchestra class took the opportunity to fundraise in the school lobby. I wonder now if voters really appreciated amateur string players attempting Pachelbel’s Canon at 6am as they waited in line.I was finally eligible to vote in the 2016 primaries. I remember being nervous for when the poll worker asked for my address, as if I would suddenly forget it. I was incredibly excited to vote after many years of participating in the civic revelry surrounding the occasion.”
Addie Patrick Special Collections Assistant
Come visit us to learn more about UVA Law’s history of coeducation and about women’s struggle for the vote (and to pick up a free bookmark!).
My name is Addie Patrick and I am a recent graduate of UVA's College of Arts and Sciences, class of 2020. I'm currently serving as a special collections assistant.
On June 15, 2020, we launched the Marshaling May Days online exhibit and website, the culmination of over a year of research on the law students who served as legal observers (“marshals”) in May 1970 at UVA. This project represents the official rebirth of the law school’s oral history program, originally spearheaded by Frances Farmer (law librarian from 1942 to 1976 and first female professor at UVA Law). Since then, the law library’s oral history collection has remained dormant, until now. This is the story of how an idea became a year-long research quest, full of inspiration and occasionally disappointment (spoiler: COVID-19). From Boynton Beach, Florida to Aspen, Colorado, I describe here the making of Marshaling May Days. It is my hope that those interested in starting their own oral history projects will find wisdom in our process; both in our successes and in our challenges.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
February 2019—May 2019
Our story begins in early 2019, when Ted Hogshire (Law, Class of 1970) reached out to Special Collections Librarian Randi Flaherty about a pseudo-organization he was involved with fifty years ago at UVA Law: “legal marshals.” In the spring of 1970, protests erupted around the country in response to the Nixon administration’s decision to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia and as a reaction to the National Guard shootings at Kent State University. The legal marshals, Hogshire explained, were a group of law students, mostly third years, that banded together to ensure the First Amendment rights of student protesters at UVA. He believed the legal marshals played a role in ensuring that UVA demonstrations did not turn physically violent, and as such their story should be told. Further, 2020 would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1970.
Randi conducted the first oral history of the May Days Oral History Project that February with Ted Hogshire, and that was that for a couple of months.
At this time, I was a third-year student (in the College) studying abroad in Lyon, France. It was not until I applied for a slew of positions through the Institute for Public History (IPH), including one at the law library, that I became mildly aware of Law Special Collections, though I didn’t get that position. However, in April, Randi emailed me. She was impressed with my oral history experience (I interned with Monticello’s Getting Word and contributed to UVA’s Oral History Initiative, Reflections, the previous summer) and asked if I was interested in breathing new life into UVA Law’s oral history program, starting with Hogshire’s request to interview former legal marshals. Flattered and thrilled, I joined the team.
Chapter 2: The Kneedler Investigation
May 2019—November 2019
While I finished my study abroad experience, Randi sent me a handful of preliminary research materials to familiarize myself with the era. However, my research really began when I returned home. During our initial meeting, Randi and I established two research questions: who were the legal marshals, and what did they do?
I requested a digital scan of the investigation, which our friends at Small Special Collections gladly fulfilled. That summer, I read through the Kneedler Investigation, the Cavalier Daily, the Charlottesville Daily Progress, an invaluable pictorial account of the May strike (May Days: Crisis in Confrontation), and one student’s thesis from 1977. I compiled every name I came across into an Excel spreadsheet, which I then color-coded based on if the individual was arrested, a law student, or a legal marshal (or, as I found, all three!).
We decided early on that we wanted to focus on third-year legal marshals so that we could present our research in the form of a physical exhibit at their 50th reunion in May 2020. We separated out the 3L legal marshals from the rest, created a new tab in the Excel sheet, and produced a running list of potential oral history interviewees.
Chapter 3: Is this thing on?
November 2019—March 2020
This stage of the process was critical for two reasons: 1). Meggan Cashwell joined our team, gifting us with her oral history wisdom and editing skills, and 2). It was time to fulfill Ted Hogshire’s wish and get out there and interview his colleagues.
To make this happen, we sent emails, made phone calls, and even sent physical letters to everyone on our legal marshal list describing the project and our goals. While we waited for responses, Meggan, Randi, and I worked to develop a list of interview questions that we could send to our interviewees in preparation for a formal interview. We also reached out to other oral history, public history, and storytelling organizations for advice on best practices and methodologies, including JMU’s oral history team,Monticello’s Getting Word,UVA’s Reflections,The Museum of Durham History, and WTJU 91.1. Over the next few weeks, responses started to trickle in. We heard back from Bob Olson, who was willing to do an interview but was currently in Aspen, Colorado for the winter. We heard from Dan Sullivan, who was in Boynton Beach, Florida. And we heard back from a handful of others who were still practicing law in the DC area. Despite the distance, we were determined to conduct as many in-person interviews as our timeline and budget would allow.
February 2020 was full of travel for the oral history team. Randi, Meggan, and Micheal Klepper (our videographer) journeyed from the snowy peaks of Aspen to the sandy shores of Boynton Beach. I stayed behind to finish up my schoolwork, but had the chance to travel to Winchester, Virginia to meet former legal marshal Gerald MacFarlane. In each case, our interviewees graciously welcomed us into their homes and offices and spoke with us for about an hour, reminiscing on “those days in May.” They shared their ruminations and reflections with us, and in return we helped to shake the dust off some of their memories through the presentation of our research.
As we neared the end of February, we only had a few interviews left to conduct. We were set to proceed with them after my spring break in early March, and then we would begin pulling together a physical exhibit to present to the Class of 1970 during their reunion in May.
Everything was going swimmingly until, of course, COVID-19 gobbled up our plans and the end of my fourth year like a greedy shark.
Chapter 4: You’re muted. Your microphone is muted!
March 2020—May 2020
I found out that I would not be going back to school near the end of spring break.
I returned to my apartment in Charlottesville and transitioned to classes online. The May Days Oral History Project continued. We met virtually via Microsoft Teams. We conducted three interviews on Zoom with four individuals (Ed Finch, Frank McDermott, H. Lane Kneedler, and Jim Carpenter). We continued to upload our interviews to otter.ai, a transcription service, and some of our staff set about correcting the transcripts for our collections.
Then, near the end of March, it became clear that everything was going to be canceled for the rest of the semester, including the Class of 1970 reunion.
We quickly determined that we still needed to present our research and decided on making an online exhibit in the form of a website. Inspired by his work on the SCOS Archive and Charlottesville Statues, we enlisted Loren Moulds to create a stellar site.
All that was left to do was figure out how we wanted the site to look, write the content, edit the content, finish the transcripts, find and create all media, cite all our sources, and put it together by the end of May. Piece of cake.
Chapter 5: Let’s build a website!
May 2020—June 2020
We knew we wanted a timeline element and a map. We envisioned a site which allowed users to jump around the timeline, as opposed to scrolling through in a linear way. As users clicked around to different points on the timeline or map, text and images would pop up to match the event. We split the work: Meggan would write the exhibit content, I would find pictures and plug it into StoryMap, and Loren would incorporate the exhibit into a larger website.
The preliminary sketches looked like this:
Once the content was complete, I created Prototype 1 of the exhibit:
Technically, it had everything we wanted (map, pictures, timeline), but it did not feel like a modern museum exhibit. We found ourselves frustrated with what this version of StoryMap couldn’t do. We could do better.
I did a little more research, and created Prototype 2:
This version was cleaner. It felt more like a website from this century. However, we were unable to incorporate audio clips into the text panel without linking to an outside video player. It was time for the third and final Prototype, which you can see in its full glory at the Marshaling May Days website.
Now that we settled on our format for the exhibit, it was time to edit the content. We had multiple edit sessions for each page of the site to ensure that every link worked, every photo was clear and cited properly, and that the text made sense. Multiple days spent editing content whilst in quarantine turned my notebook into a doodle-y mess…
…but made my roommate’s cat very content.
During the editing period, we enlisted a few library staffers and are incredibly thankful that they momentarily stepped away from their own projects to provide a fresh set of eyes to ours.
As we prepared to launch our site amid ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations, we decided to delay the site’s release in order to take a step back and reflect on the work we had completed. We thought about the privilege the legal marshals held never to fear for their lives or safety during the demonstrations they attended or during their brief interactions with police. We changed the ending of our exhibit to speak to the role that UVA student activists have played in demanding greater systemic change and demographic representation both in the College and in the law school.
Conclusion: The actual, satisfying, gratifying end (for now)
In the immediate present, we will host a “Zoom Reunion” for our interviewees on June 23rd and invite them to reminisce together. We anticipate the moment we can see them in person during the combined Class of 1970/1971 reunion in May 2021.
In the future, we will be expanding our oral history collection to include a diverse set of voices. We will incorporate relevant interviews into the May Days website. We also plan to include a photo gallery so users can thoroughly explore the law library’s collection of May Days photographs.
We shift now to the centennial anniversary of women at UVA Law, and are excited to prepare programming to mark the occasion.
To round out the legal marshal story, I will share one final reflection:
I’ve attended two of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Charlottesville so far and noticed a handful of students standing around the edges, wearing neon green hats. Upon further inspection, those hats read “National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observer.” I learned that UVA Law has their own chapter of the NLG. Seeing those individuals patrol the perimeter of the demonstration, recording their observations into their phones and small notebooks, I felt as if I had stepped into my research.
Time ticks forward, generations age and begin anew, but the power of protest lives on.
My name is Addie Patrick and I am a recent graduate of UVA's College of Arts and Sciences, class of 2020. I'm currently serving as a special collections assistant.