Publisher: University of Virginia Special Collections
First African-American Graduate at the University of Virginia
Walter N. Ridley, the first African American to receive a degree at the University of Virginia, walks the Lawn during June 1953 commencement ceremonies. A psychology professor at Virginia State College since 1936, Ridley had a bachelor's and master's degree from Howard University, as well as having completed graduate courses at the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University before applying to the University of Virginia in January 1950. "I don't know any reason why I should not attend the University of Virginia," Ridley told school officials. "My father paid taxes which fund the University." Ridley was admitted in September 1951, in the wake of a successful lawsuit brought the previous year by Gregory Swanson, who broke the color barrier at the law school. Because Swanson never finished his degree, Ridley became the first black graduate of the university, earning a doctorate from the university's Curry School of Education. Ridley, who achieved high grades in all of his courses, was initiated into Kappa Delta Pi, a university honor society. In addition, he was the first African American to earn a doctorate at historically white university in the South.