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

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.

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The UVA Law Library Celebrates Two Centennial Anniversaries

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.

Three exhibit banners displayed in a hallway
Three of six banners in the ABA’s traveling exhibit “100 Years After the 19th Amendment.”

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!).

Written by

Addie Patrick

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.

View all posts by .