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Gregory H. Swanson papers

Identifier: MSS-2024-01

Scope and Contents

This collection contains one part of Gregory H. Swanson's professional papers. They primarily document his thoughts on civil rights and his work in this area during the 1950s. The collection also includes Swanson's class photograph from the Howard University School of Law and several posthumous awards given to his daughter, Karen.


  • Creation: 1948 - 2022

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on access to the materials in this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Because of the nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the materials. Copyright is assumed to be held by the original creators of the content that has not yet entered the public domain.

Biographical / Historical

Gregory Hayes Swanson (1924-1992) was a U.S. lawyer who primarily practiced civil rights and tax law. In 1950, Swanson became the first Black student at the University of Virginia, successfully suing in federal court for admission after being denied entry because of his race.

Swanson was born in Danville, Virginia, on May 1, 1924, the son of Pearl Ann Adams and Benjamin James Swanson. In 1941, he graduated from John M. Langston High School, and four years later, he received an A.B. degree from Howard University, majoring in political science. In 1948, Swanson received an L.L.B. degree from the Howard University School of Law.

Gregory Swanson began practicing law soon after graduating from Howard University. In 1948, he accepted a position with the firm Hill, Martin, and Robinson in Richmond, Virginia, and two years later, he opened a private practice in Martinsville, Virginia.

In November 1949, Swanson applied to the LL.M. degree program at the University of Virginia School of Law. The Law School initially approved his application, but the University's Board of Visitors overruled the School and denied Swanson's admission because he was Black. With the support of Hill, Martin, and Robinson and the Virginia Chapter of the NAACP, Swanson filed a complaint against the University of Virginia in federal court. In 1950, the court ordered the University to admit Swanson, and he enrolled that fall. Swanson faced a harsh climate of racial prejudice at the University of Virginia but endeavored to participate in the University community and push the institution to be more inclusive.

After attending the University of Virginia for one year, Swanson returned to private practice in Martinsville. In 1957, he opened a law practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Then, in 1961, Swanson accepted a position at the Internal Revenue Service, where he remained until his retirement in 1984.

Gregory H. Swanson died in 1992. He was survived by his wife of 37 years, Betty Oliver Swanson, and his two daughters, Karen M. Swanson and Camille C. Swanson.


3.33 Linear Feet (4 containers)

Language of Materials



The arrangement of this collection remains unchanged from when it was first donated to the University of Virginia.

Custodial History

Before the items in this collection came to the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, Gregory Swanson's daughter, Karen Swanson, had accepted the posthumous awards on behalf of her father and inherited the rest of the collection from him.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gregory Swanson's daughter, Karen Swanson, donated these items to the University of Virginia's Law Library on February 14, 2024.

Related Materials

Around 1980, another part of Gregory Swanson's papers was donated to Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Those materials were processed into Collection 100: Gregory H. Swanson papers.

In 2024, the University of Virginia Law Library processed into its collection, MSS-2024-02, a copy of a Virginia General Assembly joint resolution commemorating Swanson's life and legacy.

University of Virginia Law Library
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States