The Trailblazers: Their Stories

Linda Howard

UVA Law Class of 1973

Moot Court Trial, Assistant Law Clerk & Semi-Finalist Winner

First African American and First Woman to be Law Student Council President 1972-1973

Currently: Lawyer in New York City

On being studco president

 

 

 

 Linda Howard James Roebuck James Trice Wesley Harris David Temple Robert Bland Raymond Gavins

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Other Featured Links:

The Preface

 The Road to Desegregation at UVA| The University 1955-75: The Timeline

UVA & the USA in the 1950s| UVA & the USA in the 1960s| UVA & the USA in the Early 1970s


“ Woman of Substance”

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 are surprised.”

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.

 

 

Works Cited