Woman Denied High School Diploma for Decades Finally Graduates
Olivia Ferguson McQueen
It took 50 years, but a Charlottesville native is finally a high school graduate. That woman was given her high school diploma Saturday after being denied it for decades - all because of her race.
Olivia Ferguson McQueen was a black student at a Charlottesville all-white high school back in the 1950s. At the time, she had no idea she was on the forefront of desegregation, or that she would finally see graduation day come.
June 3, 1959 was the last time McQueen stepped foot on a stage that currently belongs to Charlottesville's Jackson Burley Middle School. Saturday she came back to her old high school to get a piece of paper she earned decades ago - her high school diploma.
"It has stirred up a lot of memories, a lot of emotions, and I'm hoping that I don't get too emotional today," McQueen said.
McQueen was one the 12 early plaintiffs suing to attend white schools in Charlottesville. Although she was granted permission to attend the school, she wasn't treated like the other students. McQueen spent her senior year excluded from the rest of her graduating class. She was forced to study in a small building behind the school. The small building McQueen spent her days in was the school board office.
After completing high school, she was denied her diploma and instead granted a certificate that would make getting into college nearly impossible. McQueen didn't give up - she applied and got into the only college in the commonwealth that would accept the certificate - Hampton University.
She says being back in Charlottesville brought back sad memories - even on a day of such joy. "The lonely year that I had in 1959," she says.
Saturday - in full cap and gown - McQueen finally was presented her diploma.
"This will hopefully be reminiscent of what she should, would have had in 1959," said Evelyn Yancey Jones, who helped plan the graduation.
McQueen says Saturday was everything she ever imagined, however she wished her parents could have been there to see her walk across the stage. She says she hopes to pass a special message on - she says you have to make sacrifices in order to achieve the right thing in life.
Sign Up for Email Alerts
Sign up to receive NBC29 news and weather updates in your inbox daily.