Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Discrimination at Law School

BOND: Well, let me take you back to law school.

JONES: Okay.

BOND: Okay, so you decide to come to the University of Virginia. They let you in, to your surprise.


BOND: You choose between Howard and U.Va. because this is a different, new experience, rather than the old and familiar.

JONES: That's right.

BOND: But in some ways it must have -- there must have been some unpleasant things about it.

JONES: Oh, oh --

BOND: What were they?

JONES: Charlottesville was a shock to my system.

BOND: As opposed to Norfolk?

JONES: As opposed to anything. At that time, when you would come to the University of Virginia -- you know, I said that I wanted to interact with the white community. Well, I had it. I had it. Completely sex segregated in the undergraduate school, and racially segregated, so everybody was white male in the entire system.

BOND: Undergraduate.

JONES: That's right, undergraduate. Law school -- there were -- I was the black woman, and then there was another African American guy who was in my class who was from Norfolk and he's now on the Court of Appeals here in Virginia. So, the two of us, and then there were -- in the class ahead of me, the second year class – there were two men, black men, and in the third year class, there was one. So there were five of us.

BOND: How many women?

JONES: Women? There were about -- a total of about nine women in that class, my class. I was one of about nine. Yeah, either seven or nine, I'm thinking it was nine. No, no, no, no -- it was about seven because your total in the law school, you had about twelve women. You didn't have any more than twelve because we had -- you could count them on the fingers of one hand in the other two classes. So, this was the biggest class of women, and it was about eight, seven or eight. But the women, you know, we were all, we only had one place to meet in the law school and we would go into the basement of the law school. There was a ladies' room, it was a three-room situation. We had the sofa in one room, refrigerator in the other, and then you had the rest room in the third section. And we would all congregate on that couch, and so -- that's the only place we had to go because they had the murals in the hall and you know, and --

BOND: Murals of what?

JONES: Murals of, you know -- I think back on the murals. They're still there, quite sexist.

BOND: Plantation scenes?

JONES: No, not plantation scenes. Orgies, sex orgies -- that's what they looked like to me, you know, with grapes and hanging in different places and so -- we just we didn't go into the mural hall, so we would go downstairs in that basement, and I tried to figure out what experiences am I having because of race and what experiences that am I having because of gender? And I could figure it out from the conversation I had with the other women, because they would talk about their experiences.

BOND: And if their experiences were common, it was gender.

JONES: It was gender.

BOND: If it was not --

JONES: If there was something different that happened, then it was race, and I could figure out what was what.

BOND: What were the gender-related experiences?

JONES: The classroom, the hypotheticals you would get in class, you know. I mean, they were just gender based. You know, "Miss Sue, she's had four boyfriends and she -- " It's something, you know and just a contract or something always in the domestic scene, domestic arena. And it's a lot of sexism, and it was unconscious sexism, you know. I mean, men would guffle and laugh, "ha ha," and so that was gender. And we discussed -- oh, also gender was when a hypothetical question was given and no one knew the answer, that you called on the woman so she would stand up and be the one who was embarrassed because she didn't know. Nobody in the class knew, nobody volunteered to raise their hand. But when that happened, you called on the woman. So we had to really try to read that stuff and be prepared. We really had to do our very best because otherwise we would be made examples of in class. And the whole notion that, you know, you're just here to find a husband. Now I don't know if they said that about me, but they said it to the white women in the class. And so, since they didn't say it about me, I said, "Well, that's a little mixture there. Both things going on!"

BOND: Well, I know a woman who was in law school at this time and was -- she was told that she was taking a man's place, she was occupying a place that ought to go to a man, and --

BOND: Well, that was, yes, they said that part to me, but they didn't say the husband part, that you're here looking for a husband. See, because when I was in law school, Loving v. Virginia, had just been decided the year before. It's unconstitutional to decide who you could marry, who you couldn't marry. It was ridiculous, but it's all a matter of law and the case came out of Virginia, you know, and the law school was still talking about that case when I came to law school a year or so later. That was a big deal.

BOND: Was there anybody who opposed it?

JONES: Well, it was something to discuss. It was something to discuss. And they didn't say they're opposing but they discussed it with awe.

BOND: Well, from these conversations with other women you could identify gender-related problems.


BOND: Now, did you have similar conversations with black students, the few other?

JONES: Yes, the few. We were a close knit group, because there were four men – one, two, three, four men – and me. And we all asked the one in the third year class, "How have you made it?" But we would come together. And the law school -- the five of us were a nucleus for others -- one or two blacks in, graduate school in English and there was somebody over in the School of Nursing, you know, and so there was a few of us and we would -- we came together and found support in one another. My classmate who was African American in that entering class, we made certain that we had different study groups. We were in different study groups, he and I both, and then we came together and compared what we both got from each study group, so we helped one another in that way, you know. But that -- so, we branched out and there were many people, not many, some who really befriended me in law school, really did. I mean, it's a handful of friends today who befriended me. Most ignored me. They knew I was there, but then I was proud of that, you know. Julian, I had the Nehru jacket and I had the Afro, you know, I was making a statement -- and the Peace Corps Jesus sandals. So -- and I think I accentuated that because of what I was dealing with.