- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE — 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.

Mrs. Stuart was the first black 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 the University of Virginia.

“It’s a tribute to people like her, who tried and failed, that I am here,” said Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a history professor at the school.

In the university’s letter to Mrs. Stuart, administrators had said that she had been rejected because of the state’s long-standing segregation laws and for “other good and sufficient reasons not necessary to be herein enumerated.”

Mrs. Stuart wrote back, asking them to elaborate. They never did.

She went on to earn her master’s degree outside the state and became a college professor. 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.

Judge Houston said several universities, including Tulane and Emory, were interested in the collection after his mother died in 2001 at age 88. But he saw a “certain poetic justice” in having the 30 boxes of papers, speeches and research files at U.Va.

The papers represent “not just a history of the university, but history of the South and history of the U.S.,” said Michael Plunkett, director of the library’s special collections section.

The school had newspaper articles and university and NAACP documents about Mrs. Stuart, said UVa. historian Scot French, who helped obtain the papers. “What we didn’t have was her perspective on all of this,” he said. “We didn’t have her words.”

Mrs. Stuart is a little-known figure in the civil rights movement because of her modesty, her son said. She would refer to her rejection by UVa. but seldom gave details.

“She didn’t seek publicity or promote herself. She was very private,” Judge Houston said.

But when her application, and rejection, were publicized by the university and the NAACP, she was thrust into the middle of an uproar. The 22-year-old daughter of a Richmond pharmacist started receiving threatening letters and phone calls.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial in September 1935 stated, “it is essential for the well-being of the white race, and also for that of the colored race, that the two be educated separately.”

Her cause was taken up by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who would 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 Mrs. Stuart was among 400 black students who had received the money. Some became doctors, lawyers and university presidents.

When she applied to UVa., Mrs. Stuart had a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University in her hometown and graduate-level credits from Smith College. At the time, Virginia had no graduate schools for blacks.

“I thought that certainly as a taxpayer I would be, should be, eligible for attending the university,” Mrs. Stuart said in a transcript of a 1987 interview.

Mrs. Stuart got her graduate degree in English from Columbia University and taught at Bethune-Cookman College, Howard University and Rutgers University.

In 1950, the tuition supplement was ruled unconstitutional. That year, UVa. admitted its first black student.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide