Summing it All Up

My research is finally completed. I am finished editing my 45 page paper. When writing my paper I was initially concerned with studying the experiences of the first African Americans at William and Mary. I found information about specific students mostly by using online databases of old newspapers as well as by looking at old issues of The Flat Hat. I found out that the first African American to be enrolled at the College of William and Mary was Hulon Willis in 1951 who the College admitted after much deliberation.

When researching former alumni, I also found myself focusing on the College’s policies on the admission of African American students. I found this information in Special Collections. A year before the admission of Hulon Willis, the College issued a public statement stating its change in policy. It stated that it would consider admitting graduate students if they were applying to programs that weren’t offered at any public black college. The College also stated that it would refer all of the applicants they were considering to the Attorney General to receive his opinion.  This statement was issued following historic Supreme Court cases that ruled that African American students who applied to graduate programs not offered elsewhere must not be denied admission on the basis of color.

In addition to these Supreme court cases another case much closer to home changed the College’s policies and led to the admission of Hulon Willis in 1951. In 1950 Gregory Swanson applied to UVA’s law school and was refused admission. He then filed a lawsuit against them. When the case was reviewed in a Court of Appeals the final decision was that Swanson must be admitted to UVA because there were no public law schools that exclusively served African American applicants.

When Hulon Willis applied to William and Mary, the president of William and Mary sent a letter to the Attorney General asking whether he should admit him. The Attorney General responded that Willis could not be rejected on legal grounds. The College admitted very few students between 1950 and 1960 following this procedure–only accepting graduate students who applied to programs not offered at Hampton Institute (a HBCU) and only after referring these applicants to the Attorney General.  The school finally relaxed the guidelines of only admitting qualified graduate school applicants when the school admitted Oscar Blayton in 1963. Oscar Blayton was William and Mary’s first African American undergraduate student.

Only in the  late 60s did the school show a marked interest in increasing enrollment of African American students. The College’s move to full integration was a slow process spanning the 50s and 60s.

Well I’m glad to have completed my paper and I am thankful to the Charles Center for the opportunity to do so.


  1. Daniel Casey says:

    Having spent a significant portion of my summer delving through news reports, I can appreciate the time it must have taken to put that all together. Granted, my data is relatively recent and thus partly compiled in LexisNexus. I suppose that makes your findings even more impressive given the age of the documents in question. Anyway, I am very impressed by the completeness of your story. I am particularly intrigued by the role Attorney General as the gatekeeper of sorts. Great Work!

  2. gamaccubbin says:

    Agreed. That the Attorney General’s opinion was one of absolute necessity in the admittance of the first African American graduate student is astounding to me. When a place like William and Mary, which seems to progressive in the modern age, had such parochial and insular notions of race, identity and status I find myself somewhat disheartened. That the president of the college was unable to make a decision regarding African American admittance without the approval of the Attorney General shows the sensitivity of this issue in the 1950’s and 60’s. I feel as though I would thoroughly enjoy reading your entire paper!