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Virginia State University: 140th Anniversary

This guide celebrates the 140th anniversary of Virginia State University's founding.

Notable Alumni

Dr. Billy Taylor, VSU Class of 1942, is one of jazz's most influential African-American pianists, composers, and educators. As the distinguished ambassador of the jazz community to the world-at-large, Dr. Taylor's recording career spans nearly six decades. He has also composed over three hundred and fifty songs, including "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," as well as works for theatre, dance, and symphony orchestras. He has also hosted and programmed such radio stations as, WLIB and WNEW in New York, and award-winning series for National Public Radio.

In the early 1980s, Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning. He is one of only three jazz musicians appointed to the National Council of the Arts, and also serves as the Artistic Advisor for Jazz to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he has developed one acclaimed concert series after another including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. With over twenty-three honorary doctoral degrees, Dr. Billy Taylor is also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine, and, election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

Camilla Williams, VSU Class of 1941, was the first African American to receive a contract from a major American opera company, making her the first African-American opera singer. She received critical acclaim for her debut in May 1946 for singing the title role in Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and sang the role of Bess in the first full-length recording of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” made by Columbia Records in 1951. In 1954, she became the first African American artist to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera.

In 1963, she performed in Danville, Virginia, her hometown, to raise funds to free jailed civil rights demonstrators and sang at the March on Washington that same year. Ms. Williams sang for Martin Luther King Jr. when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In 1970, she retired from opera and began teaching voice at Bronx College, Brooklyn College, and Queens College, all in New York City. In 1972, she was honored by the Governor, as one of 35 Virginians who demonstrated outstanding national achievement in the arts and humanities. In 1977, she became the first African-American professor of voice at Indiana University.

Track star and painter of Virginia State University portraits of Presidents, Johnny Borican, VSU Class of 1938, would have been the Jesse Owens of middle distances in track & field. During the 1938 Penn Relays, he was the only representative of a black school to win an individual medal. He became a national and international figure, setting many records. He won the National Pentathlon in ’38, ’39, and ’41 and the National Decathlon in ’41, and was set to compete in the 1940 Olympics if it was not canceled due to World War II. Tragically, his death in 1942 ended his promising career as a world-class athlete. He was 29 years old.

Rosalyn Dance, VSU Class of 1986, is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 63rd district southeast of Richmond, which is made up of the city of Petersburg; and part of Hopewell plus parts of Dinwiddie; Chesterfield, and Prince George Counties. Prior to her election in 2005, she was the mayor of Petersburg from 1992–2004.

Reginald Lewis, VSU Class of 1965, was the richest African-American man in the 1980s. He won a football scholarship to VSU, graduating with a degree in economics. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 and was the first African American to build a billion-dollar company, Beatrice Foods. The Reginald F. Lewis College of Business at VSU is named in his honor. In addition, if you are ever in the Baltimore, MD area, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture is a must-see.

With 14 New York Times bestselling novels under his belt and twenty-two novels in total, Carl Weber is considered one of the premier African-American authors in the country. As the President, CEO, and Publisher of Urban Books LLC, he has published more than 2500 hundred books and has grown his company into one of the largest African-American-owned publishing companies in the world. Carl successfully ran a chain of Urban Knowledge bookstores and has now branched out into screenwriting and has written and produced three of his bestselling novels (The Man in 3B, The Preacher’s Son, and The Choir Director) into independent films with his production company, Urban Books Media LLC.

Known affectionately as the “Bumblebee” by Baltimore Orioles Fans, Alonza “Al” Bumbry, VSU Class of '69, played 13 of his 14 Major League seasons as a star outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles. His speed made him one of the Orioles' all-time stolen base leaders. In 1973 he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He was an All-Star and he made two World Series trips with the Orioles in 1979 and 1983, winning it in ’83. In 1987, the “Bee” landed permanently among Orioles legends with his induction into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.

Interestingly, Al was a late bloomer in baseball. He first distinguished himself on the basketball court, averaging 32 points per game at Ralph Bunche High School (King George County). After accepting a basketball scholarship to VSU, he played four years and was captain during his senior year. When VSU restarted the baseball program during his final academic year, Bumbry decided to play baseball. He captained the Trojans, batted .578, and was the team’s Most Outstanding Player. The decision to play baseball led Bumbry to a lifelong dedication to America’s pastime. Following his graduation in 1969, Bumbry fulfilled his military obligation of two years. He was discharged as a first lieutenant after serving a year in Vietnam, where he was decorated with the Bronze Star.


“One of the Nation’s First Documented African-American
Female Architects”

Amaza Lee Meredith was born in Lynchburg Virginia on August 14, 1895. She was the eldest daughter of Emma P. Kenney and Samuel P. Meredith, a respected carpenter. Because her father was white and her mother black, Amaza’s parents could not be legally married in Virginia. The two traveled to Washington, DC, in racially segregated railroad cars to tie the knot. But Samuel Meredith lost much of his business as a result of the controversial marriage and took his life in 1915. Despite this family tragedy, Amaza graduated from high school the same year at the top of her class, and enrolled at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, now Virginia State University.

After college, Amaza taught in Botetourt County and then moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1926 and enrolled in the Teacher's College of Columbia University, New York where she majored in fine arts. There she received a bachelor’s degree with honors in 1930 and a master’s degree in 1934. Amaza soon returned to Virginia State to teach art and was appointed chair of the Art Department a year later, where she remained until her retirement in 1958. She is credited for establishing Virginia State’s School of Fine Arts Department.

Beyond her career at Virginia State, Amaza’s life was also rich in contributions. Her artistic self spilled over into many other facets of her life. For example, she exhibited her art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and in galleries in New York and North Carolina. Some works were acquired by groups, such as the Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA, where they are still displayed; while many others hang in the homes of area residents. Amaza also developed interior decorating and design skills and in the field of business coordinated color schemes for campus buildings. She also pursued architectural interests, though she had no known formal architectural training. In 1939, Amaza completed her own home, which she fully designed and built adjacent to the campus of Virginia State. Her home, which she named “Azurest South,” was considered to be “one of the most advanced residential designs in the state in its day” and a bold investigation of the International Style, a style that espoused a complete break with architectural traditions.

Though Amaza was never a registered architect, in her time, she was one of only a handful of black architects in practice and one of the nation’s few female black architects. (According to the 1910 U.S. Census only 59 blacks were active as architects and another 47 as draftsmen). In the ensuing decades, Amaza enjoyed a limited architectural career designing for friends and family in Virginia, Texas, and Sag Harbor, a Long Island (NY) resort for wealthy whites, including the Roosevelt family, where she and her sister, Maude Kenney Meredith Terry, worked together to create an enclave of vacation homes for middle-class blacks they named "Azurest North." They worked with others to establish the "Azurest Syndicate, Inc." where lots were sold to individual investors, who built summer, or year-round cottages on the land. Amaza designed at least two of these residences: 1) Terry Cottage, summer home for her sister, Maude Terry: and 2) Edendot, belonging to friends Ed and Dot Spaulding.

Amaza was also an active member of the Virginia State University Alumni Association. In 1943, she was one of the architects of the first “Capital Campaign” for the Association, with the goal to build an Alumni House. In 1949, she provided several sets of blueprints for the proposed Alumni House however, plans fell through by 1962. Undaunted, Ms. Meredith tried another approach: she willed half of Azurest South to the Alumni Association in the hopes that the dream for which she had worked so long would become a reality following her death in 1984. The Association purchased the remaining interest in the property from the estate of Dr. Edna Colson, another retired University faculty member and joint owner of Azurest South, following her death in 1986. This marked Azurest South as the official “Alumni House” for the Association, making Ms. Meredith’s dream a reality.

Perhaps best known for her advocacy of gun control legislation and public education, the Honorable Jean Cunningham, VSU Class of 1968, served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1986 until she retired in 1997. She has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including National President, Virginia State University Alumni Association and board member of the VSU Board of Visitors, to which she was appointed by former Virginia Governor Chuck Robb.

Aird received her B.A. from Virginia State University in 2008. Her professional experience includes working in higher education administration. She has served as chairwoman of the Petersburg Democratic Committee and has served on the City of Petersburg Planning Commission.

Aird served as the representative of the 63rd House district in the Virginia Assembly between 2016-2022.

Rodney Robinson, VSU Class of 2000, became a teacher to honor his mother, who struggled to receive an education after being denied an education as a child due to segregation and poverty in rural Virginia.   In 2015, Robinson started teaching at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center,  in an effort to better understand the school-to-prison pipeline.   

Robinson has been published three times by Yale University and has received numerous awards for his accomplishments in and out of the classroom, most notably the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.  In 2018, he was named Virginia Teacher of the Year and in 2019 he was recognized as National Teacher of the Year. 

Dr. Gladys West, VSU Class of 1952,  is a mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth.  She began her career in aerospace in 1956, at the Naval Proving Ground, now called Naval Support Facility Dahlgren. She was the second black woman hired at the base and one of only four black employees.  During her 42 years of service, she played an integral role in the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS). She rose through the ranks at NSWCDD, worked on satellite geodesy and other satellite measurements that contributed to the accuracy of GPS. Almost everyone is impacted by her work on the GPS, as it is now on phones and in most cars.

On December 6, 2018, Dr. West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fame at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame is one of the Air Force’s Space Commands Highest Honors. She also received a Senate Resolution honoring her accomplishments in March of 2018.

Tauheed K. Epps, known professionally as 2 Chainz, is an American rapper, songwriter, media personality, and basketball player. Born and raised in College Park, Georgia, he initially gained recognition for being one-half of the Southern hip hop duo Playaz Circle, alongside his longtime friend and fellow rapper Earl "Dolla Boy" Conyers. The duo was signed to fellow Georgia-based rapper Ludacris' Disturbing tha Peace label, and are best known for their debut single "Duffle Bag Boy" (featuring Lil Wayne).

Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, better known by his stage name Wale, is an American rapper and songwriter. He first rose to prominence in 2006, when his song "Dig Dug (Shake It)" became popular in his hometown. Wale became locally recognized and continued recording music for the regional audience. Wale met English DJ-producer Mark Ronson in 2006 and joined his label, Allido Records in 2007. While signed to that label, Wale released several mixtapes and appeared in national media including MTV and various Black American-focused magazines. A song called "Ridin' in That Black Joint" was featured in the popular video game Saints Row 2's soundtrack in 2008.

Christine Darden, an American mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who devoted much of her 40-year career in aerodynamics at NASA to researching supersonic flight and sonic booms. She had an M.S. in mathematics and had been teaching at Virginia State University before starting to work at the Langley Research Center in 1967. She earned a PhD in engineering at George Washington University in 1983 and has published numerous articles in her field. She was the first African-American woman at NASA's Langley Research Center to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service, the top rank in the federal civil service.



James LaRue Avery was an American actor and poet. He was best known for his roles as Philip Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Judge Michael Conover on L.A. Law, Steve Yeager in The Brady Bunch Movie, Haroud Hazi Bin in Aladdin and Dr. Cripplen on The Closer (2005–2007).

Lucia Kay McBath is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 6th congressional district. The district, which was once represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Johnny Isakson, includes many of Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs, such as Alpharetta, Roswell, Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, and parts of Tucker and Marietta. She is a member of the Democratic Party.

Deshauna Barber is an American beauty pageant titleholder, motivational speaker, and captain in the United States Army Reserve. On June 5, 2016, she was crowned Miss USA 2016 by outgoing titleholder Olivia Jordan of Oklahoma. She represented the United States at Miss Universe 2016 where she placed among the top nine finalists.

Mary Alice Franklin Hatwood Futrell was born in Altavista, Virginia; her mother was a domestic and factory worker and her father worked in construction. In 1958, Futrell earned her high school diploma from Dunbar High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she was a cheerleader, and a member of student government, the Future Business Leaders of America and the National Honor Society.

In 1962, Futrell received her degree in business education from Virginia State College. From 1962 until 1964, Futrell worked as a teacher at the segregated Parker Gray High School in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1965, Futrell helped integrate the teaching staff at George Washington High School, where she taught business until 1980; while there, she earned her master’s degree in secondary education from George Washington University in 1968.

In 1983, Futrell became the president of the National Education Association, becoming the fourth minority to serve in the position; she remained there until 1989. During her three terms as NEA president, Futrell helped the organization achieve leadership status in the areas of civil and human rights, especially women’s rights.

In 1992, Futrell joined the faculty at George Washington University, while earning her Ph.D. in education policy studies; in 1995, she was promoted to dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Futrell also served as the director of the George Washington Institute for Curriculum Standards and Technology.

Futrell served as the president of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession; The Virginia Education Association; Education International; and ERAmerica.

Roger L. Gregory is the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Jennifer Denise Carroll Foy is an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, she is a public defender by occupation. Carroll Foy was elected to represent Virginia's 2nd House of Delegates district in 2017, which covers parts of Prince William County and Stafford County in Northern Virginia. She resigned from the House of Delegates to focus on her campaign for Governor of Virginia in 2021, which she lost, in the Democratic primary, placing second behind Terry McAuliffe.

Dennis L.Via is a retired United States Army four-star general who last served as the 18th commanding general of the United States Army Materiel Command from August 7, 2012 to September 30, 2016. He is the first Signal Corps officer since General Henry H. Arnold to achieve four-star rank. He retired from the army on September 30, 2016, after over 36 years of service.

Gaye Adegbalola is an American blues singer and guitarist, teacher, lecturer, activist, and photographer.

Herman Russell Branson was an American physicist, chemist, best known for his research on the alpha helix protein structure, and was also the president of two colleges.

Marcus Gloster, known professionally as Black Cobain, is an independent American rapper signed with Jet Life Recordings. He collaborated on the Wale track "4 AM" and was the opening act of Wale's 2011-2012 53-city "Ambition" tour.

Clayton Anthony Rapada is a Filipino American former professional baseball pitcher. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and Cleveland Indians. He is currently the pitching coach for the Augusta Greenjackets, a Single A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

William Robert Harvey is an American educator, academic administrator, and businessman who has served as president of Hampton University since 1978. He is the longest serving president in the school's history. Harvey became the first African-American owner in the soft drink bottling industry when he and his wife, Norma Baker Harvey, purchased a Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company franchise together in 1986.

Pamela E. Bridgewater is a United States career diplomat, most recently posted as the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.

Yvonne Bond Miller was a Virginia educator and American politician who became the first African-American woman to serve in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. A Democrat, in 1983 Miller became the first African-American woman elected to the state house, where she served for four years before winning election to the state Senate, where she consistently won re-election until her death in office. Miller taught in the Norfolk Public schools, and later taught early and childhood education at one of her alma maters, which had become Norfolk State University during her lifetime.

Robert Dickson "Bobby" Orrock, Sr. is an American politician. Since 1990 he has been a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 54th district in the east-central part of the state, including (since 2002) parts of Caroline and Spotsylvania Counties, a county included in the Washington metropolitan area. From 1990–1991 the District encompassed all of Spotsylvania, part of Caroline County, and part of the City of Fredericksburg. From 1992–2001 the District encompassed part of Spotsylvania County and all of the City of Fredericksburg. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Thomas Miller was a prolific graphic designer and visual artist, whose best known publicly accessible work is the collection of mosaics of the founders of DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois. The mosaics are a prominent feature of the lobby of the museum, the original portion of which was designed c.1915 by D.H. Burnham and Company to serve as the South Park Administration Building in Washington Park on the city's south side. After serving various purposes, the building became the home of the DuSable in 1973.

Avis Wyatt is an American retired basketball player. Wyatt is 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) and played as a power forward and center. After four years playing in college for Virginia State, Wyatt played in the Netherlands, Cyprus, and Greece.

Delores Goodwin Kelley is an American politician from Maryland and a member of the Democratic Party. She is currently serving in her 4th term in the Maryland State Senate, representing Maryland's District 10 in Baltimore County.

Ruppert Leon Sargent was a United States Army officer and a recipient of America's highest military decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in the Vietnam War.


Dzigbordi Dosoo is a Ghanaian businesswoman, speaker, and consultant who owns a talk show called The Dzigbordi Show which airs in 46 countries in Africa, the UK, and Europe. She is the co-creator of an African skin and body care aromatherapy and spa line product called Kanshi. She is the founder and Chief Executive officer for Allure Africa, a brand she has successfully marketed in Ghana and beyond. As a result, In 2009 she was adjudged the Marketing Woman of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. And on the 1st of May 2017, she was honored with the Inspiration Award at the Repêchage Annual Conference in New York. She was one of six to be presented a Repêchage President's Award that year.


Ora Brown Stokes Perry was an American educator, probation officer, temperance worker, and clubwoman based in Richmond, Virginia.

Alonzo Earl Short Jr. is a retired United States Army lieutenant general who served as Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

She was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Allen Cumber and Veronica Bell Cumber. Dance attended Ruthville High School in Ruthville, Virginia, and earned a bachelor's degree in English from Virginia State College in 1957. She then taught at Armstrong High School in Richmond until 1962, when she returned to Virginia State College as an instructor. The next year, she completed a master's degree from Virginia State. In 1971, Dance graduated from the University of Virginia with a doctorate in English and was named an assistant professor at Virginia State. She taught at Virginia Commonwealth University between 1972 and 1993 when she joined the University of Richmond faculty. In 2013, Dance was appointed Sterling A. Brown Professor of English at Howard University. In addition to her stellar career as an educator, Dr. Dance is a noted author of several books.

In March 2022, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Howard Baugh Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Incorporated.  The retired colonel and education administrator served his country in the United States Navy and Army across three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  He became part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen in the 1940s.  Col. Taylor was one of the founders of the Baugh chapter established in 1972 in Petersburg, VA.  Col. Taylor also received his Master's degree from Virginia State College in 1961.

Mrs. Sonia Jackson graduated from Virginia State University in December 2021 at 72 years of age.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), becoming the first graduate of VSU's first fully online program.

Justice Coleman was the first African-American to serve on the (NJ) Supreme Court. He was nominated by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman on Oct. 3, 1994, and sworn by Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz on Dec. 16, 1994. At the time of his nomination, Justice Coleman was serving as a presiding judge of the Appellate Division of Superior Court.

Justice Coleman began his judicial career in May 1973, when he was appointed a judge of the Union County Court. He served in that capacity until December 1978, when he became a Superior Court judge. In March 1981, he was elevated by Chief Justice Wilentz to the Appellate Division. He was named a presiding judge of the Appellate Division in May 1987.

Justice Coleman was born in Lawrenceville, Va, on May 4, 1933. He graduated in 1952 from James S. Russell High School in Lawrenceville, Va He is a 1956 cum laude graduate of Virginia State University. He received his law degree in 1959 from Howard University School of Law, Washington, D. C., and was admitted to the bar in New Jersey the following year. In 1963, he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was discharged in February 1962. Justice Coleman was engaged in the private practice of law from July 1960 until February 1970, with offices in Elizabeth and Roselle. He joined the former New Jersey Department of Labor and Industry in July 1960 as an assistant to the commissioner. During his service with the department, he was an assistant to the director of the Division of Workers' Compensation; consultant to the New Jersey Rehabilitation Commission; counsel for and manager of the New Jersey Subsequent Injury Fund; and referee of formal hearings in the Division of Workers' Compensation.

In July 1964, he was appointed a judge of the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Court and served there until his appointment to the Union County Court. Justice Coleman served on the Supreme Court until he retired on May 3, 2003. He and his wife, Sophia, are the parents of two children.