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50th Anniversary of First Civil Rights March at UVA

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Black and white students marched on March 25th, 1961 to protest against the "whites only" policy at the University Theater. Black and white students marched on March 25th, 1961 to protest against the "whites only" policy at the University Theater.

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first civil rights march at the University of Virginia. Black and white students marched on March 25th, 1961 to protest against the "whites only" policy at the University Theater.

On Friday, a group gathered on grounds to remember exactly 50 years ago, when a group of young people gathered in front of the University Theater. It all started with a UVA student named Virginius Thornton. In 1961, he was the first African-American graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Coy Barefoot, who organized the event Friday stated, "He had come down here on March 1st to buy a ticket and was refused. So, they returned on March 25th and began what was a protest and a march." 

The march he organized would last for three days. In addition to the march, the students circulated a petition supporting a boycott of the theater.

UVA Professor of Law & History Tomiko Brown-Nagin remarked, "These students were courageous. They put their bodies on the line and literally said that they were standing up for their constitutional rights."

Brown-Nagin continued, "They show that it's possible to create a better world by individual acts of protest."

"It really represents that moment in time when students at UVA and faculty members were willing to stand up together and protest what was the law of the land," said Barefoot.

The movie theater didn't desegregate until 1964 when it was forced to by federal law, but that group of students played an important role in Charlottesville's civil rights movement. You can read more about the historic march in Coy Barefoot's book, "The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia."

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