University of Richmond Race & Racism Project

Segregation & the Association of American Law Schools

The University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law has been a member of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) since 1920. Before UR’s law school desegregated, the AALS issued a statement in 1951 that the organization would take a stance for racial equality and would hope that the 180 member schools of the AALS would choose to desegregate. The statement was framed at that time as an “objective” that “the Association shall encourage its members to maintain.”

Although the AALS did not use strict language around its wish for member schools to integrate, the frequency and volume of correspondence between President Modlin, Law School Dean William T. Muse, and the AALS indicates the social pressure that was placed on the University of Richmond to desegregate the T.C. Williams School of Law. Membership in the AALS was highly prized not because the organization had powers of official accreditation, but because of the social power associated with the member schools. Being a member school in the AALS indicated a seriousness and quality of legal education that was coveted by many universities. The reputation of the T.C. Williams School of Law and the University of Richmond would face negative repercussions if they failed to comply with the expectations of the AALS. The following documents, spanning from 1954-1963, show how this relationship with the AALS evolved over time in regards to the issue of segregation.

Item #384: “Segregation”

In the 1954-1955 section of the President's Report titled "Report of The T.C. Williams School of Law," there was a brief subsection labelled "Segregation" which told of the role of the Association of American Law Schools in addressing segregation within law schools. The President's Report wrote that although non-segregation was made an "objective" by the association, it was not then made a "requirement." Of the 130 member schools, only 16 law schools remained segregated by 1955--eleven of which were privately endowed institutions in the South. The Report, although a University publication, did not provide any information specific to the University of Richmond. This document reads as an avoidance of the issue and a careful analysis of the lack of explicit obligation stated in the AALS’s stance on desegregation, even if the intentions of the statement were clear.

Item #360: “Letter from Dean William T. Muse to President Modlin and attachments”

This document contains correspondence between President Modlin and Law School Dean William T. Muse. Muse informed Modlin of an upcoming meeting on Racial Discrimination of the AALS (Association of American Law Schools). Dean Muse requested that Modlin attend this meeting. Muse included in his letter two attachments - a letter from the Dean of the Washington & Lee Law School as well as the Notice of Conferences that Dean Williams of Washington & Lee sent along with his letter to Dean Muse. The correspondence in the “Segregation Matters” folder has indicated that Dean Muse in the T.C. Williams School of Law was open to the idea of the law school's integration in order to satisfy the desegregation objective of the AALS.

Item #436: “Letter from Milton A. Reid to George M. Modlin and Replies”

This document is a collection of correspondence between President George M. Modlin and Minister Milton A. Reid. Reid applied to the T.C Williams Schools of Law in 1960, despite the segregation policy still in place at the time. Reid wrote to Modlin, “in this era of sociological change, if it is felt that a Negro might be admitted on a trial basis, I am going to be selfish enough to suggest to you that ‘I am he.’” Reid then told Modlin of his past achievements--serving four years in the Army, spending many years as a religious counselor to youth, and A.B. and B.D. degrees from Virginia Union University. Although it is not stated in the correspondence to Modlin and the University of Richmond, Reid's obituary shows that he was a civil rights activist, worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and was the founder of the Virginia chapter of the SCLC. These accomplishments, however, did not qualify Reid for an exception in UR's segregation policy. Modlin replied to Reid's letter stating again the University’s segregation policy, but told him that, “If the University’s policy is changed in the near future, I am sure that we would be proud to have a man like you as the first Negro to enroll in our Law school.” This case is particularly significant to the AALS’s desegregation objective because it shows that there were African American applicants to the T.C. Williams School of Law. The University of Richmond could not claim at this point that admissions were screening applications fairly regardless of race. 

Item #431: “Association of American Law Schools”

This resistance to integrate and turning away of African American applicants led to a censure of the T. C. Williams School of Law by the AALS in 1963 for not complying with the Association’s policy. The report shows that Dean Muse was the one who reported the University of Richmond’s failure to adhere to the standard. In a letter from Vernon X. Miller, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of American Law Schools, to Dr. Modlin, Miller said that “most of us realize that much of this sort of thing is an imposition on people of good will” in his framing of the enclosed vote for censure.

Works Cited  

Leflar, Robert A. "Legal Education: Desegregation in Law Schools." American Bar Association Journal 43, no. 2 (February 1957): 145-49. Accessed December 5, 2016.

 Vegh, Steven G. "Norfolk civil rights leader Milton Reid dies at 80." The Virginian-Pilot, December 14, 2010. Accessed December 5, 2016.


Click the images below to view the documents in their entirety.

Segregation & the Association of American Law Schools