From our first Black graduate in 1954 through the appointment of our first Black dean in 2020, Black History at W&M Law recognizes and celebrates the pivotal moments in Black history at William & Mary Law School. While the exhibit is not an exhaustive exploration of Black history at the Law School, it represents many of the important milestones in our School’s journey towards equity and inclusion.
The online exhibit reflects and expands upon the physical exhibit Black History at W&M Law on display in the Law School lobby during the spring semester of 2021. The books displayed and listed in the online exhibit are available in e-book format and may be borrowed by members of the William & Mary community. For photographs of the physical exhibit, see the album in Flickr.
Note: the images and articles below reflect the time periods from which they come. Some article titles may include outdated terminology or insensitive language.
1954 - First Black Graduate, Edward A. Travis
Edward A. Travis
Painting of Edward A. Travis by Connie Desaulniers. On August 13, 1954, Travis becomes the first Black graduate of William & Mary Law School, earning a Bachelor of Civil Law degree.
Edward Travis Earns B.C.L.: First Negro Is Awarded Willam & Mary Degree
J. H. Knight
Article from the August 28, 1954 issue of the Black-owned Norfolk newspaper Journal and Guide on Edward Travis being the first Black man to earn a law degree at William & Mary.
1971 - First Black SBA Officer, Wilson C. Jefferson Jr.
Wilson C. Jefferson Jr.
Photograph of Wilson C. Jefferson Jr. from the 1972 Colonial Echo. During the 1971/1972 academic year, Jefferson serves as the first Black Student Bar Association Vice-President. When he graduates in 1972, Jefferson becomes only the second Black graduate of William & Mary Law School.
1973 - Marshall-Wythe Chapter of BALSA Formed
Black American Law Student Association
In 1973, Black students at William & Mary Law School form the Marshall-Wythe Chapter of the national Black American Law Students Association. The organization would later become BLSA (the Black Law Students Association) and the chapter would be renamed the W.C. Jefferson Chapter after Wilson C. Jefferson Jr. - the first Black SBA Vice-President and the second WMLS Black graduate.
1974 - First Black Faculty Appointment, JeRoyd X. Greene
JeRoyd X. Greene
Photograph of JeRoyd X. Greene (later Sa'ad El Amin). In April 1974, the Law School faculty offered a position to Greene to teach as a visiting professor. He would have been the school's first Black professor. Claiming that Greene's record was too controversial, William & Mary President Thomas A. Graves expressed concern over the appointment and State Senator Edward E. Rilley threatened the Law School's funding if the Greene appointment proceeded. Bowing to this pressure, the Board of Visitors unanimously voted to deny Greene the appointment. It would be more than ten years before David Coar became the first Black person to teach at William & Mary Law School.
W&M Law Situation Is 'Tense'
Article from the May 16, 1974 Richmond Times-Dispatch describing the controversy surrounding the proposed appointment of JeRoyd X. Greene as Visiting Associate Professor of Law. Ultimately, the threat to remove state funding for the law school thwarted the appointment.
JeRoyd X. Greene: Proposed Law School Appointment Stirs Controversy
Alumni Gazette of the College of William and Mary
Article from the July 1974 issue of the Alumni Gazette of the College of William and Mary (v.42:no.1) describing the problems surrounding the appointment of Jeroyd X. Greene as Visiting Professor of Law. After threats to cut William & Mary funding by State Senator Edward Willey, the president of the college and the Board of Visitors voted against the appointment of Greene. The law school faculty opposed the decision as bowing to political pressure.
Greene to Give Seven Lectures at W&M
Times-Dispatch State Staff
Article from the Thursday, November 7, 1974 issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch announcing a series of lectures to be given at William & Mary Law School by JeRoyd X. Greene. An "ad hoc group of 45 faculty and administration members" invited Greene in response to the denial of his appointment as visiting professor in April of 1974. Each member of the group pledged to donate one day's pay to cover costs of the lecture series.
1975 - First Black Female Graduate, Sharon A. Coles
Sharon A. Coles
Photograph of Sharon A. Coles from the 1975 Colonial Echo. In 1975, Ms. Coles becomes the first Black woman to graduate from William & Mary Law School.
Greene Says Board's Act Set 'Dangerous Precedent'
Wallace Auser and Evan Adair
Article from the February 25, 1975 issue of Amicus Curiae (vol.5:no.10) reporting on a lecture by JeRoyd X. Greene at William & Mary in which he discusses the investigation by the American Association of University Professors into the withdrawal of his appointment as a visiting professor in 1974. He also labels the law school faculty as "a bunch of sissies" for not backing his appointment more strenuously.
Sa'ad El-Amin to Lecture at Marshall-Wythe
Article from the September 28, 1978 issue of Amicus Curiae (vol.10:no.3) announcing the October 12, 1978 lecture by Sa'ad El-Amin at William & Mary Law School. Objections by State Senator Edward Willey of Richmond prevented Mr. El-Amin, formerly known as JeRoyd X. Greene, from joining the WMLS faculty in 1974.
1979 - First Black SBA President, Bessida White
Photograph of Bessida White. In spring 1979, Ms. White wins the election for Student Bar Association President. The first Black SBA president, her historic term in the 1979/1980 academic year coincides with the Law School's 200th anniversary.
Who Are These Women and What Are They Doing Here?
Article from the April 5, 1979 issue of Amicus Curiae (v.10:no.12) announcing Bessida White's election as Student Bar Association president.
Dean Williamson Addresses Charges of Racism at M-W
Richard A. Williamson
Article from the March 26, 1981 issue of The Advocate (vol.11:no.10) in which Associate Dean Richard A. Williamson responds to questions of equity and racism at the Law School.
Lawyer's Guild, BALSA Hold Demonstration Against Racism
Philip J. Kochman
Article from the March 26, 1981 issue of The Advocate (vol.11:no.10) reporting on a demonstration held by the National Lawyer's Guild and the Black American Law Student Association on Wednesday, March 18. The demonstration was held "to publicize a real problem at Marshall-Wythe: the lack of minority faculty and students."
Affirmative Action: How Far Does It Go?
Article from the October 21, 1982 issue of The Advocate (vol.14:no.4) examining the current state of affirmative action at the College of William & Mary. The article was written partially to respond to remarks and classroom instruction given by Dr. Vernon H. Edmonds, a professor of sociology on main campus.
Being Black at Marshall-Wythe: Students Air Their Views
Barbara Johnson and Alotha Willis
Article from the October 21, 1982 issue of The Advocate (vol.14:no.4) describing the experiences of Black students at William & Mary Law School.
1985 - First Black Instructor to Teach at W&M Law, David Coar, Visiting Professor
Photograph of Visiting Professor David Coar addressing a class. During the 1985 fall semester, Coar becomes the first Black instructor to teach at William & Mary Law School. On leave from DePaul University College of Law, he taught courses on the legal profession and corporations.
1986 - First Black Woman to Teach at W&M Law, Doris Edmonds
Doris Perry Edmonds
Photograph of Doris Edmonds. In 1986, Edmonds, Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of Clinical Education, begins teaching at William & Mary Law School. She would be the first Black woman to do so.
1987 - First Black Tenure-Track Professor, Alemante Selassie
Photograph of Alemante Selassie. In 1987, Selassie joins the faculty as the first Black male tenure-track professor. A political refugee from Ethiopia, Professor Selassie would teach at William & Mary until 2011.
1988 - First Black Female Tenure-Track Professor, Margaret Spencer
Photograph of Margaret Spencer. When she joins the faculty in 1988, Professor Spencer becomes the first Black female tenure-track professor. After teaching for six years, Spencer left the faculty to accept an appointment to the General District Court in the City of Richmond. Later elevated to the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond in 1998, she became the first female Circuit Court judge in central Virginia.
1989 - First Black Administrator, Kay P. Kindred
Kay P. Kindred
Photograph of Kay P. Kindred. In 1989, Kindred joins the William & Mary Law School administration as deputy director of the Institute of Bill of Rights Law and lecturer in law. She serves in the capacity from 1989 to 1994 and as assistant professor of law from 1994 to 1999.
1993 - First Black Tenured Professor, Alemante Selassie
Photograph of Alemante Selassie. In 1993, Selassie, the Law School's first Black tenure-stream professor, becomes the first Black tenured professor. Selassie would teach at William & Mary until his retirement in 2011.
2000 - First Black Female Tenured Professor, A. Mechele Dickerson
A. Mechele Dickerson
Photograph of A. Mechele Dickerson. Hired in 1995, Dickerson earns tenure in 2000. In doing so, she becomes the first Black female tenured professor at William & Mary Law School. She teaches at the law school from 1995 to 2006 when she leaves to accept an academic appointment at another institution.
2006 - First Black Director of the Faculty Support Center, Della Harris
Photograph of Della Harris. After joining the Law School in the early 1980s, Della Harris becomes the first Black Director of the Faculty Support Center in 2006. The 2003 winner of the Law School's John Marshall Award, Ms. Harris would continue working part-time after her 2006 retirement.