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.

View all posts by .