Shown here is an image of Case 1 of the "'The Inevitable Present': Integration at William & Mary" Exhibit located in the Marshall Gallery (1st Floor Rotunda) and the Read & Relax area of Swem Library at the College of William & Mary, on display from February 4th 2013 to August 13th 2013
The following is a transcription of the labels in this case:
In late 1950, the Dean of the Department of Jurisprudence, Dudley W. Woodbridge reinforced the statements of the Board of Visitors and the Alumni Gazette when he told a meeting of the Norfolk and Portsmouth Bar Association that William & Mary would accept African American applicants.
Edward Augustus Travis was the first African American law student at William & Mary entering in the 1951 fall semester and graduating in August 1954 with a BCL degree, making him the first African American alumnus of William & Mary. Travis, born in Reed’s Ferry, Virginia, had attended Hampton Institute and graduated from Florida A&M before applying to William & Mary. Travis passed away in Newport News in November 1960.
While William & Mary had cracked open a door to integration, other battles continued throughout the nation, including in Washington, D.C. The Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws sent this flyer to William & Mary president Alvin Duke Chandler asking him to share the group’s boycott of department store Hecht’s with students. There is no indication in the records of the Office of the President if Chandler shared this information with students or others.
Hulon Willis was the first African American student admitted to William & Mary. He began in the summer 1951 term, pursuing his masters of education. At the time of his admision, Willis was already a graduate of Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) and a teacher in the Norfolk school system. He earned his degree from William & Mary in August 1956. The William & Mary Alumni Association’s Hulon Willis Association, a constituent group founded in 1992 by and for African American alumni, was named in honor of Willis, preserving his name and place in the university’s history for the future.
As a graduate student, Willis naturally had a different experience on campus than today’s undergraduate students. During the summers when he was attending classes, Willis lived on Braxton Court in a boarding house operated by Miss Gwen Skinner. When they attended football games at William & Mary, Hulon & Alyce Willis sat in the student section, not in the end zone where other African Americans were seated in the segregated stadium. When Willis was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, an education honor society, according to Mrs. Willis another member told the group that he would be not be a part of an organization that admitted an African American. The group told this member he could leave and Willis was inducted in August 1956. As an alumnus, Willis joined the Order of the White Jacket, an Alumni Association constituent group for those who worked in campus dining halls, Colonial Williamsburg restaurants, and other dining establishments. After earning his graduate degree, Willis became an assistant professor at Virginia State University and then the director of campus police.
Like all students applying to William & Mary at the time, Willis was required to include a photograph of himself with his application. In a 2005 oral history interview with Jenay Jackson ’05, Hulon Willis’ wife Alyce, who had encouraged her husband to apply to William & Mary, recounted that upon receiving his acceptance letter in March 1951, she wondered if the photograph had fallen off his application. But a few weeks later, William & Mary released a public statement, announcing that Willis was the first African American student admitted to the institution. Willis was accepted not because the institution was opening its doors to all potential African American students, but because of the case brought by Gregory Swanson against the University of Virginia in 1950 after he was denied admission to the university’s School of Law. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Swanson could not be barred from admission because of his race. Willis was pursuing his master’s degree specializing in physical education and since that program of study was not offered by a state-supported institution accepting African American applicants, William & Mary could not decline to admit Willis based solely on his race. The college established a procedure to confer with Attorney General J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. in Richmond on the admission of African American applicants beginning in the 1950s. William & Mary specifically wished to avoid a court case, while some, like A. W. Bohannan, who wrote to President Pomfret in May 1951 after Hulon Willis’ admission, saw forcing applicants to take the institution to court as the next step in preventing integration.
New Journal and Guide, 28 August 1954
This article is available through the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database at
William & Mary’s first non-white undergraduate student was Art Matsu, ’28. Born to a Scottish mother and Japanese father, Matsu was an exceptional athlete who was successfully recruited from Cleveland by William & Mary to play quarterback and became captain of the football team. He also played basketball, baseball, ran track, became a member of the 13 Club and the Varsity Club, and took part in other student activities. But Matsu's attendance did not open the door widely to Asian American students. William & Mary’s student body would include only a handful of Asian and Asian American students throughout the 1930s-1950s.
The Colonial Echo, William & Mary’s yearbook, has been digitized by Swem Library and all volumes from 1899-1995 are available from the W&M Digital Archive at digitalarchive.wm.edu/colonialecho/.
Searching for a specific yearbook?
Contact Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center at email@example.com or 757-221-3090 to inquire if copies from your William & Mary years are available.
William & Mary admitted its first African American students under President John E. Pomfret. Pomfret would depart William & Mary soon after Willis and Travis were admitted due to the unrelated football scandal of 1951. He was replaced by former admiral Alvin Duke Chandler who was new to academia.
Correspondence, internal memos, and other materials relating to integration were filed by the Office of the President in the 1950s-1960s under the heading “Negro Education.” After being transferred to the University Archives, these folder titles were maintained to document the organization and practices of the office and the era.
You can both listen to and read Alyce Willis’ 2005 oral history interview at hdl.handle.net/10288/600.
The Swem Library and William & Mary’s Lemon Project conduct oral history interviews to document the stories and lives of college alumni, faculty, and staff. To volunteer, contact Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-221-3090.
Center for Student Diversity Records, UA 260,
Series 1: Office of Minority Student Affairs
Read more of The Black Presence at William and Mary at hdl.handle.net/10288/16118
The Flat Hat, 1 May 1951.
The Flat Hat student newspaper, first published in 1911, was digitized by Swem Library and is available from the W&M Digital Archive at digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/20
Jacqueline Filzen’s 2012 Charles Center Summer Research paper “African Americans at the College of William and Mary from 1950-1970” offers further information on this subject and provided much useful material for this exhibit. The paper can be read at hdl.handle.net/10288/17049
From the Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. See swem.wm.edu/research/special-collections for further information and assistance.
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The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums – also known as the Field Music of the Virginia State Garrison Regiment – carries forward the tradition of military music. Since 1958, visitors in the Historic Area have enjoyed the musical performances and experienced the history of America's Revolution.
Colonial Williamsburg's field musicians are drawn from a waiting list of young community applicants. Boys and girls begin their education in military music at age 10 and practice weekly for the next eight years, until after they have graduated from high school. These young people talk with the public about the role of music in the 18th-century military. They teach younger members the music and history lessons needed to continue the tradition of the field musicians.
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This photograph shows students relaxing on the Sunken Garden on the last day of classes at the College of William and Mary on April 27, 2012. William and Mary traditionally holds a picnic on the Sunken Garden with food, games, and music to celebrate the last day of classes.
From the Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. See swem.wm.edu/scrc/ for further information and assistance.
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