Integration at Sweet Briar

| August 1, 2013

Spring 2013 marked 50 years since a group of Sweet Briar students, faculty and alumnae asked President Anne Gary Pannell and the board of directors to seek legal counsel to discover in what way, if any, the restriction laid forth by Indiana Fletcher Williams in her will for the College to educate “white girls and young women“ was still binding. This request began a multi-year, complex journey to the College becoming an integrated institution. Over the next four years, Sweet Briar will commemorate significant dates in this historic process.

Nov. 2, 1963
The board of directors instructs its executive committee to “take whatever legal action may be necessary and appropriate to secure a judicial determination as to whether we may, consistently with the charitable purposes
of Indiana Fletcher Williams, admit qualified persons to Sweet Briar College, regardless of race.”

Aug. 17, 1964
The College files a bill of complaint in Amherst Circuit Court to reinterpret the will.

June 3, 1965
Judge C. G. Quesenbery rules against Sweet Briar with support from the attorney general of Virginia, who urges the court to uphold the College’s original charter.

June 11, 1965
Sweet Briar files federal forms signifying its intent to admit African-Americans in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision to do so comes despite the June 3 court ruling denying the College’s request to amend its charter to eliminate a race restriction clause. Although the immediate filing is an attempt to preserve federal funding while the case is being litigated, Sweet Briar’s board remains committed to the fight for desegregation.

May 28, 1966
Sweet Briar’s board is advised by counsel that, under the injunction granted in the U.S. District Court, it is free to exercise its best judgment on the College’s admission policy. After discussion and deliberation, the board passes a resolution that sets forth a policy “unrestricted as to race, creed or color.”

Aug. 31, 1966
Sweet Briar College admits its first  African-American student, Marshalynn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68.

May 29, 1967
With two justices dissenting, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the judgment of the District Court and orders the case remanded for consideration on its merits. This action forces the three-judge panel in the District Court to render an opinion, from which it has previously abstained.

July 17, 1967
Without hearing further argument, the three-judge panel in the District Court rules unanimously to forbid the current attorney general of Virginia, the commonwealth’s attorney of Amherst County and their successors from ever seeking to enforce a racial restriction on admission to Sweet Briar College. The commonwealth of Virginia does not appeal.

Category: On the Quad Summer 2013, Summer 2013