Gregory Swanson (j. 1/64; d.1992) started coming to All Souls in 1959/60 with his wife, Betty, at the urging of his sister, Mollye Swanson Ridgley (d. 1980), and brother, Carroll Swanson. His daughter, All Souls member Karen Swanson, said her dad was a Sunday School teacher, a leader of the church’s Ethical Dialogues discussions, and a government tax lawyer. He was also the first Black student admitted to the University of Virginia.
Swanson was a 26-year-old practicing lawyer when he filed a federal lawsuit to gain admission to UVA to pursue a master’s in law. The law faculty had supported his entry, but the UVA Board of Rectors blocked it, citing state law “that white and colored shall not be taught in the same schools.” Civil rights legends Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, Martin A. Martin, and Spottswood Robinson of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund appeared on Swanson’s behalf in the lawsuit, which played out in federal court in Charlottesville. After a 30-minute trial and deliberation, a three-judge panel decided Gregory Hayes Swanson v. the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia in Swanson’s favor. After he won his lawsuit, he was admitted in 1950, setting a precedent for racial integration at the University.
In 2018, to commemorate his role in helping to integrate UVA, the Law School commissioned a portrait, which is on permanent display in the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library and established an award in his name. In addition, in 2016, a plaque was dedicated in his memory at the downtown branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library — in the very courtroom where his case was argued. He was honored again in May 2022, when the state of Virginia unveiled a new highway marker recognizing his place in history.