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The Key to the Door

Experiences of Early African American Students at the University of Virginia
Edited by Maurice Apprey and Shelli M. Poe

BUY Cloth · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939865 · $27.50 · Apr 2017
BUY Ebook · 224 pp. · ISBN 9780813939872 · $27.50 · Apr 2017

The Key to the Door frames and highlights the stories of some of the first black students at the University of Virginia. This inspiring account of resilience and transformation offers a diversity of experiences and perspectives through first-person narratives of black students during the University of Virginia’s era of incremental desegregation. The authors relate what life was like before enrolling, during their time at the University, and after graduation. In addition to these personal accounts, the volume includes a historical overview of African Americans at the University—from its earliest slaves and free black employees, through its first black applicant, student admission, graduate, and faculty appointments, on to its progress and challenges in the twenty-first century. Including essays from graduates of the schools of law, medicine, engineering, and education, The Key to the Door a candid and long-overdue account of African American experiences at the University’ of Virginia.


This collection offers a vital, informative history of African American students at the University of Virginia during the early years. The book provides a model for other institutions to follow in documenting and learning from the history of black students on their campuses and in using those lessons as they chart the future. This volume adds to current discussions concerning access, equity, inclusion, and achievement in higher education and is particularly useful for its examination of these questions through the lived experiences of African Americans who attended one of the country’s leading public universities.

Walter R. Allen, University of California, Los Angeles, coeditor of Towards a Brighter Tomorrow: College Barriers, Hopes, and Plans of Black, Latino/a, and Asian American Students in California

This volume captures the entwined history of black people and U.Va., including the enslaved people who built it, the black workers who took care of its grounds and its students, the earliest black men and women admitted as students, and the surrounding black community that supported and sustained them. Rarely has an institutional history been so well complemented by such compelling personal narratives. The pursuit of education is an enduring theme in black history, and this book brings that struggle and its successes to life.

Barbara D. Savage, U.Va. Class of ’74, University of Pennsylvania, author of Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion

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