UVa Library Press Releases
Papers of Civil Rights Pioneer Who Was Denied Admission Come Home to University of Virginia Library
So far as your rejecting my application
because I am a Negro is concerned, I will discuss
that further with you when you have itemized the
“other good and sufficient reasons”
upon which it was rejected.
--Alice Jackson, in a letter to the University’s Board of Visitors, 1934
By 1934, the University of Virginia had been accepting female students to its graduate programs for nearly 15 years. Still recovering from the backlash that came with this policy (and its affront to views on the proper education of a “Southern gentleman”), the Board of Visitors received an application from Alice Carlotta Jackson, a 22-year-old Richmond native. Her application and the decision it prompted changed the state’s history.
Alice Jackson was the first African American to apply to a Virginia graduate school. She received a letter from the U.Va. board that rejected her on the basis of race as well as “other good and sufficient reasons.” She wrote back, asking for detail so she could address those mysterious reasons, and her letter touched off a passionate and public debate that led to the passage of a law that paid black Virginians to attend graduate school out of state. That historic correspondence, and 60 boxes of related papers, photographs and other documents pertaining to her later distinguished career as an educator, were recently given by her family to the U.Va. Library.
“There is a certain poetic justice” that the papers will have a permanent home at U.Va., her son, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Julian T. Houston, said of the family’s decision to donate them to U.Va. “It enables her to achieve in death that which she sought but was denied in life.”
Jackson, who became Alice Jackson Stuart with a later marriage, went on to study at Columbia University and became an influential college teacher at historically black colleges for some five decades. She died in 2001, at the age of 88.
When her U.Va. application was rejected, her challenge was taken up by the NAACP, and one of her lawyers was Thurgood Marshall, later to become the first African-American Supreme Court
justice. To resolve the case, the Virginia General Assembly established a special tuition supplement for African Americans to attend schools outside of Virginia. While the law was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, its impact stayed with Stuart the rest of her life.
“That experience was a defining moment in my mother’s life,” Judge Houston said. “It taught her the importance of standing up for her beliefs, even when she knew that, merely because of the color of her skin, she would not succeed.” “[She] was a wonderful mother and teacher and a person of great courage, and she deserves to have her papers preserved under the best conditions possible,” he said.
Stuart earned an English degree from historically black Virginia Union University in 1934. After a year of further study at Smith College in Massachusetts, she returned to Richmond and became an instructor at Virginia Union at the time of her U.Va. application.
The collection “will be of great value not only to scholars studying Southern civil rights and education issues, but to all Virginians,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. “The Jackson family has deep roots in Virginia and a long history of contributions to the state. We are thrilled and honored by the family’s decision to donate this important collection.”
The Library’s Director of Special Collections, Michael Plunkett, said that the papers will immediately enhance the research of undergraduate and graduate students at the University’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies. Students are already working on an extensive Web archive of Stuart's career. Jackson’s papers add considerably to an already extensive archive on civil rights and African-American history collections at U.Va.
In 1990 the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution honoring Alice Jackson Stuart for her courageous act in the 1930s.
For a digital version of this release and images to go with a news story: http://www.lib.virginia.edu/press/press_releases.html
For the Carter Woodson Institute’s online project about Alice Stuart Jackson: http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/projects/kenan/jackson/jackson.html