Little-Known Civil Rights Pioneer’s Papers Donated to UVaCHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.
When Alice Jackson Stuart sent a handwritten letter to the administrators who rejected her application to the University of Virginia in 1935, she became one of the earliest but least-known pioneers of the civil rights movement.
Stuart was the first Black person ever to apply to the university founded by Thomas Jefferson, and scholars say her gutsy move paved the way for legislation that paid for Blacks to attend out-of-state professional schools and, 15 years later, the admission of Blacks to UVa.
“It’s a tribute to people like her who tried and failed that I am here,” says Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a history professor at the school.
Stuart went on to earn her graduate degree in English at Columbia University and went on to teach at Bethune-Cookman College, Howard University and Rutgers University.
Now, her personal essays, speeches and papers, including her correspondence with UVa, have been donated to the university by her only child, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Julian T. Houston.
Houston said several universities, including Tulane and Emory, were interested in the collection after his mother died in 2001 at the age of 88. But he saw a “certain poetic justice” in having the 30 boxes of papers, speeches and research files at UVa.
The papers represent “not just a history of the university, but history of the South and history of the U.S.,” says Michael Plunkett, director of the library’s special collections section.
The school already had newspaper articles and university and NAACP documents about Stuart, said UVa historian Dr. Scot French, who helped obtain the papers. “What we didn’t have was her perspective on all of this,” he says. “We didn’t have her words.”
In the university’s letter to Stuart, administrators said she was rejected because of the state’s long-standing segregation laws and for “other good and sufficient reasons not necessary to be herein enumerated.”
Stuart wrote back, asking them to elaborate. They never did.
Her cause was taken up by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first Black U.S Supreme Court justice. Less than a year later, the state legislature voted to pay tuition and travel expenses for Blacks to attend out-of-state graduate schools.
A UVa researcher found that Stuart was among 400 Black students who received the money. Some became doctors, lawyers and university presidents.
In 1950, the tuition supplement was ruled unconstitutional. That year, UVa admitted its first Black student.
— Associated Press
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