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.
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.