Linda Howard was born and raised in Ettrick, a town, south of Richmond in
the area of Virginia known as Southside. She was the daughter of educators,
who grew up during the ever-changing tides of the desegregation period. In
1970, Howard made her pick of Law Schools. She decided to attend the University
of Virginia. ’“I was from Virginia and it was the only Law School
that made sense for a Virginian to attend”, said Howard.
When Howard entered the Law School in September of 1970. The country and the
University itself were going through tremendous change. James Roebuck, the
first black Student council President at UVA, had stepped down from his term
in the spring. The first class of women were entering the University undergraduate
woman under federal court order after a lawsuit. And nationally conflict in
Vietnam had reached its apex with anti-war protests dominating the political
scene across the country and in many university and college communities.
In the classroom, Howard remembered no experiences appeared racist as an African
American student. But she remembered being one of three African American women
in a Law school class that was over three hundred. “I was told that that
was the first year, the number of women attending the law school was in its
double digits,” said Howard.
As history describes it, the Women’s Movement began in 1970, given the
times, Howard was determined what kind of woman and student she was going to
be at the Law School.
I was absolutely determined to be successful and to get through it,” she
said. “Many students left during the first semester. One woman walked
out in the middle of first year exams and we never saw her again,” she
remembered. “I was determined not to be one of those.” While actively
pursuing to be the best in the classroom, Howard also pursued being the best
in her activities.
Howard was involved in Moot Court, where she became an assistant Law Clerk
and competed in the Semi-Final arguments of the two year competition. She also
attempted to be part of BALSA, the then Black American Law Student Association.
One of the first meetings she attended, they had had elections. “Well
when all the men were elected,” said Howard, “They looked around
for a woman to be there secretary and one of the girls started to raise her
hand and I held it down.They could do it themselves,” she said.
The second meeting left an equally bad taste in her mouth. “I was told
I wasn’t needed because I had gone to a white college,” Howard
said. Around this time, the Black Power movement and black pride had come to
fruition in many parts of the country, and had appeared to seep into the University
campus. Whatever the case, Howard never returned to BALSA.
For her part, Howard was very used to being around white people. “I had
attended integrated schools since age 13. It was not weird for me”, Howard
said. “Most of these schools were predominantly white, if not a solid
mix of the two races. During her time at the Law school, she noticed the racial
division that had occurred as a result of past discrimination. “Black
students tended to socialize completely separately from the white students,
and I socialized with both,” she said.
Her friendliness and determination struck many people. And it bode her well
when she grew active and ultimately made her mark in student government. Some
of her white friends encourage her to run for Law School President. She took
them up on their offer, running and winning against four white male classmates.
As President, she headed the Law School Student Council.
When interviewed for the Corks & Curls yearbook back in 1973 at the end
of her term. Howard’s reply to the question about what her experience
as the first black and first woman to be Law School President was “it
was traumatic at first”. She went on to add in that article:
I think that my being black has for the most part lessened people’s expectations
of me. It’s a hard thing for me to say because nobody’s come up
to me in the Law School and look at me and say “I think that you’re
incompetent because you’re black.” All my feelings about this are
necessarily conclusions. I think that most people in the Law School think that
blacks are there to integrate. We’re not there to walk away with any
awards, we’re not there to get any of the honors, we’re not there
to speak up in class and be intelligent. When we do that sort of thing, it
surprises people. To a certain extent those of us who are noticeable enjoy
the notoriety because we are noticeable, but to a certain extent, it hurts
a little bit when your classmates turn around when you are talking and they
In an interview today, Howard remembers those whites who were surprised at
her accomplishments. A white male who was upset that she had beat him in the
Moot Court Trials said “The only reason you beat me,” he said, “is
because you are popular.” Her reply: “I won because I was better
than you. And until you understand that I will always keep beating you”.
Despite her experiences, Howard had compassion for the white students, particularly
the white men. “ I had compassion for them,” she said remembering, “They
woke up one day and people like me were beating them”.
Most of the white men who attended UVA were privileged and Howard knew it,
but it was not something that bothered her. When one friend defended his affiliation
with the Country Club of Virginia, that didn’t allow blacks to be a part
of their club with “How else am I supposed to make a living [?]” Howard’s
response was not to get further infuriated. Howard’s approach was to
take on each individual who was blissfully ignorant. Her patience for that
project stemmed from that compassion. “I really got how spoiled and privileged
many of them were,” she said in reflection. “You had to have compassion
for people who were so well off, but so sad. I was surprised at how sad, uncertain
and unconnected many of the law students were. I got that I was tougher and
better than they were in many ways. I was better at dealing with a lot of what
we all had to deal with in law school. I found room that way to have compassion
for them. I saw that I had something to offer.”
Now thirty years removed from that experience, Howard no longer thinks of
her term as “traumatic”. She remembers though “how I really
cared and had a fondness for those I represented.”
Does she view herself as a pioneer? “Now I do,” said Howard. Being
a pioneer, she said, “is striking new ground and going where others hadn't
been before. And really in my situation nobody was there before.”
Howard actively returns for the alumni reunions for her Law School. And was
recently at her 30th reunion in May 2003. And until last month she worked in
as an executive in the Law Department of the City of New York where she actively
recruited and hired UVA Law students for attorney positions. Her family still
carries on in the UVA tradition. Her brother, Roscoe C. Howard, Jr. went to
UVA’s Law School right after her, and has since been appointed the United
States Attorney for the District of Columbia.