© Howard Sochurek, May 1960, Petersburg, VA / USA

Original caption: Smoke Test, one of the harassments sit-ins have met ‘on the firing line’ as students call demonstrations, is administered to Virginius B. Thornton. His tormentors are David Gunter, an N.A.A.C.P.-student adviser (left), Leroy Hill, high school teacher.

In 1960, UVA’s black students Wesley Harris and Virginius B. Thornton had entered the University. Harris was an undergraduate striving to attain his degree in aeronautical engineering. Virginius Thornton was a graduate student, the first black graduate student to enter the doctoral program at the University. These two men were activists around Grounds and greater Charlottesville. Together they picketed such places as Buddy’s Restaurant on the Corner and the Holiday Inn because they would not serve blacks. They served on the Thomas Jefferson Council on Human Relations, which worked to promote interracial equality in Charlottesville and the University.

Graduate student Virginius B. Thornton made a statement through his loud activism and aptitude for staging sit-ins. Another door was blown open when the first black student, Leroy Willis was allowed to enter the College, in 1960. To that time, the blacks at the University were only allowed to attend specialty schools like the School of Engineering. UVA still operated under the old letter law of “seperate but equal”. Being able to attend the College of Arts & Sciences had been denied to black students, in spite of the 1954 ruling of the Supreme Court all schools were to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”.

(…) By the late 1960s, the University finally came alive with activism that was infecting many a college campus. UVA students participated in many demonstrations, black and white alike. (…) The University was finally embracing changing, and slowly detaching from the tradition that had made it so hostile an environment. There was the March at UVA supporting the Selma March in Alabama, in 1965, to several hundred UVA students attending Martin Luther King’s speech at Old Cabell in 1963 before King’s famous March On Washington later that year. UVA students also protested Vietnam and the exclusion of women in the undergraduate class. Indeed, like Bob Dylan’s famous song, the times were a changing. (read more)

Find more of these absurd/sad photographs here. Humans: what a weird weird creature… I hope times keep on changing, it’s still a long way to go…

» find a similar photo by Eve Arnold here «