In an emotional and triumphant ceremony, Longwood University on Friday dedicated its newest academic building on campus in honor of Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean, the first tenured Black professor in university history.
Family, friends, former students, and colleagues joined together in the lobby of Allen Hall, a building that sits just behind the Rotunda in the heart of Longwood’s historic corridor, to honor the legacy of Dean, a social work professor for more than 20 years who led myriad changes to campus that have led to an increasingly diverse university community.
Lori Isaac, Dean’s niece, said her aunt was a standard-bearer in a family that is proud of its legacy of breaking ground and leading calls for change. Dean’s older sister, Edwilda Allen Isaac, was a participant in the 1951 Moton student strike that produced many of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education. Her father was a local community leader operated a thriving business E.B. Allen Funeral Home. Her mother, local educator Vera Jones Allen, worked with the Kennedy Administration in 1963 to open the local Prince Edward Free Schools while public schools were shuttered in response to desegregation. In later years, together the family worked together to establish the R.R. Moton Museum, now a national historic landmark.
We have a legacy of pushing back, of pushing for change, of making wrongs right. I’m proud to be a part of that legacy, and I am so grateful that we are honoring her in this way and embracing her qualities of generosity and empathy.Lori Isaac, Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean’s niece Tweet This
“The Allen family has lived here for a hundred years,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, but a change has come. My aunt remembered the rafters showing in the Black maternity ward at Southside Community Hospital. She remembered having to crawl through windows to sneak in and learn music. We have a legacy of pushing back, of pushing for change, of making wrongs right. I’m proud to be a part of that legacy, and I am so grateful that we are honoring her in this way and embracing her qualities of generosity and empathy. In a world where wearing your heart on your sleeve is not always considered valuable, this building embraces those qualities that my aunt had.”
Dean began teaching part-time at Longwood in 1973 and joined the faculty full-time in 1980 after spending many years as a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, Los Angeles, and Virginia. Very soon after she became a full-time faculty member, she continued her family’s legacy of pushing for change, serving as coordinator of Minority Affairs, where she worked with the admissions department to develop strategies to recruit and retain Black students, like developing the Summer Transition Program for underrepresented students to ease the transition to college. At the same time, she served as advisor to the Association of Black Students, AKA Sorority, and BASIC Gospel Choir.
There are a lot of dreams Dr. Dean had and there is distance yet to travel, and probably always will be. But there is great distance that has been traversed.Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV Tweet This
Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV said the legacy of that work can be seen on campus today.
“Dr. Dean would feel like so many of her dreams and visions were being manifested in so many ways,” said Reveley. “A student body that in 1980 was not particularly diverse at all is year by year more and more wonderfully diverse. A Black Alumni Association that is thriving and a vibrant part of the university.
“And this community that she loved is different than it once was. The Farmville Town Council voted unanimously to remove its Confederate statue. The partnership between Longwood and the Moton Museum is in so many ways the bedrock for all of Farmville and Prince Edward and is really thriving. The museum, a national historic landmark, is now in the process of seeking to become a world heritage site. And to me this has always felt particularly poignant, Prince Edward County revised its seal recently and a picture of Moton is the heart of the Prince Edward County Seal. There are a lot of dreams Dr. Dean had and there is distance yet to travel, and probably always will be. But there is great distance that has been traversed.”
Two of Dean’s students, Kamala Benjamin-Allen ’88 and Charlease Hatchett ’87, spoke about the impact that she made on their lives.
Edna, as I fondly referred to her, was more than just a mentor, professor, and friend; she was my second mother, a guiding light, and a source of inspiration for all who had the privilege of knowing herCharlease Hatchett ’87 Tweet This
“Edna, as I fondly referred to her, was more than just a mentor, professor, and friend; she was my second mother, a guiding light, and a source of inspiration for all who had the privilege of knowing her,” said Hatchett. “She was known by many names - Edna Bledsoe, Edna Allen Dean - but what remained constant was her unwavering commitment to education, equality, and progress. Her marriage to John Dean, whom we affectionately remember as a character and a doting figure for our children, was a testament to the love and joy she brought into our lives.”
That commitment to education continues in a scholarship that bears Dean’s name. The scholarship is awarded to a student studying social work. Each year, the scholarship fund grows as family, friends, colleagues and former students make contributions to its endowment. Gifts to support the Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean Scholarship can be made by contacting Longwood University Institutional Advancement.
At Friday’s ceremony, another former student, Melanie Littlejohn-Lee ’87, who is a practicing social worker, led the audience in signing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before Dean’s nephew Elder Warren Reid delivered a stirring rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.
Joan Johns Cobbs, one of the original Moton school strikers, was close with the Allen family, and remembered Edna as “the funniest, most generous person I think I’ve known.”
Dean was born in 1938 in Farmville and graduated from Robert Russa Moton High School in 1956. She earned degrees from Springfield College and Columbia University, and completed her Ph.D. in Instructional Pedagogy at the Union Institute in Cincinnati.
She received the university’s honorary alumni award a few months before she passed away in 2020. A plaque in the lobby of Allen Hall reads:
Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean
Associate Professor Emerita of Social Work 1980-2004
During her distinguished career as a licensed clinical social worker, and as Longwood’s first Black tenured professor, Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean profoundly influenced generations of students, guiding them through personal challenges and turbulent times. In 1996, her former students honored her by establishing a scholarship in her name. This building bears the name Allen Hall in recognition of the countless ways Dr. Allen, her parents E.B. and Vera, and her sister Edwilda served the Prince Edward community. Most notably, as leaders of the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women, they spearheaded efforts to preserve the Robert Russa Moton High School, now a National Historic Landmark and civil rights museum.
ALLEN HALL NAMED BY THE LONGWOOD UNIVERSITY
BOARD OF VISITORS ON 11 SEPTEMBER 2020