University of Virginia Honors Its First African American Doctoral Graduate

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors has voted to rename Ruffner Hall in honor of Walter N. Ridley, the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from the University of Virginia.

Born in Newport News, Virginia in 1910, Ridley, a grandson of a slave, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C. After beginning doctoral work at the University of Minnesota, Rodley applied for enrollment in a doctoral program at the University of Virginia. After seeking admission to the university over the course of many years, he was finally admitted to the Curry School of Education and completed his doctorate in 1953. Dr. Ridley holds the distinction of being the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from a predominantly White university in the South.

After serving as an administrator and professor at Virginia State University for 21 years, Dr. Ridley became academic dean at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia. In 1958 he became the president of what is now Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. After resigning the presidency of Elizabeth City State in 1968, Dr. Ridley returned to the classroom as professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, where he served until his retirement. On September 26, 1996, Dr. Ridley died in West Chester, Pennsylvania, at the age of 86.

Robert C. Pianta, current dean of the School of Education at the University of Virginia, stated that “we are delighted to celebrate Walter Ridley’s pathbreaking leadership and contributions to education and society. As a school dedicated to realizing human potential, we can look to Dr. Ridley’s writing, statements, and actions as models for engaging in our work. We are fortunate that he chose the university as a place to continue his education and are honored by our association with him.”


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