In 1968, Algernon Johnson “A.J.” Cooper founded the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA) at the New York University Law School. BALSA’s purpose was to effectuate change in the legal system. The association endeavored to sensitize the law and legal profession to the ever-increasing needs of the Black community. This commitment has never wavered.
In 1983, BALSA revised its name. The word “American” was deleted to encompass all Blacks who were not of American nationality. Later, the word “National” was added to reflect the extent to which the organization had expanded.
The National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA), the largest student-run organization in America, has over 200 chapters at law schools throughout the country. This represents almost every ABA-accredited law school, plus several non-accredited law schools. These chapters represent over 6,000 Black law students in six regions which encompass 48 states including Hawaii, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Recently, NBLSA established international links with Black law students in Canada, England, and South Africa who decided to model their student organizations after NBLSA.
NBLSA’s societal impact is enormous. In its effort to remain responsive to the needs of the Black community in general and the Black law student in particular, the NBLSA has initiated many worthy programs and is often active in joint-effort programming with other organizations that have goals and objectives analogous to its own.
NBLSA continues to conduct its prestigious Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition and expand its national Adopt-A-School Program. In addition, through its Nelson Mandela Scholarship Program, NBLSA awards six scholarships of over $500.00 each to black law students annually. With an emphasis on economic self-help, abolishing apartheid, and forwarding a progressive civil rights position, NBLSA continues its strong commitment to the objectives of the Association. Further, the Association maintains strong ties with the National Bar Association, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, and the National Black Leadership Roundtable.
Continuing the tradition of responsiveness to issues facing the Black community, in 2019, the University of Richmond School of Law’s chapter of BLSA successfully changed the chapter’s name. From the law school’s namesake of T.C. Williams, the chapter is now an homage to Oliver Hill, a distinguished Black civil rights attorney from Richmond. Mr. Hill dedicated his life to fighting racial discrimination and paved a way for future generations to have the same rights as their white counterparts. Though its name is different today, the Oliver Hill Chapter of BLSA remains dedicated to same the mission of effecting change in the legal system.