In Memoriam: John F. Merchant, 1933-2020

John F. Merchant, who was the first Black graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, died on March 5 in Newtown, Connecticut. He was 87 years old and had suffered from cancer. An attorney, Merchant also taught at Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University, both in Connecticut.

A native of Greenwich, Connecticut, Merchant earned a bachelor’s degree at Virginia Union University in Richmond. He then entered the law school of the University of Virginia. He was not the first Black student. Gregory Swanson enrolled in 1950 but left after one-year due to the hostile reception he received on campus. Merchant became the law school’s first Black graduate in 1958.

After a term in the Navy where he learned to play gold, Merchant set up a private legal practice in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He practiced both civil and criminal law for nearly half a century. He also continued to hone his golf game and won two tournaments. But he was excluded from playing at many of Connecticut’s private country clubs.

In 1992 Merchant became the first African American appointed to the executive committee of the United States Golf Association. Merchant provided legal representation to Tiger Woods as he transitioned from amateur status to become a professional golfer.

In 2012, Merchant published the memoir A Journey Worth Taking: An Unpredictable Adventure.

Related Articles


  1. Rest in Power, Mr. Merchant (John), and thank you for helping to “pave the way” for all of us who have graduated from The University. While your physical presence will be sorely missed at future Black Alumni Weekends and other events on Grounds, your legacy will certainly live on!
    Xuri Maurice Allen, Ph.D.
    Col ’87, Educ ’89
    Lawn Resident, 1986 – 87

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Students at Three HBCUs in New Orleans to Participate in Power of Prosperity Initiative

The Power of Prosperity program will help remove barriers to students’ academic success by providing students and their families with free access to financial support and resources.

Yale University Scholar Wins Early Career Physics Award

Charles D. Brown II, an assistant professor of physics at Yale University, has been selected as the winner the Joseph A. Johnson Award for Excellence from the American Institute of Physics and the National Society of Black Physicists.

Three African Americans Appointed to New Administrative Posts at Universities

Arthur Lumzy Jr. is the new director of student career preparedness at Texas A&M University–Commerce. Sandra L. Barnes was named associate provost for undergraduate education and student success at Alcorn State University in Mississippi and Roberto Campos-Marquetti has been appointed assistant vice president for staff and labor relations at Duke University.

North Carolina A&T State University to Debut New Graduate Programs in Criminal Justice

The university's criminal justice master’s and doctoral programs are designed to provide high-quality graduate education and training in criminal justice with the four areas of specialization: investigative science, digital forensics, research methodology, and social justice.

Featured Jobs