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Civil Rights Activist Shares Story of Cville Elementary Students - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Civil Rights Activist Shares Story of Cville Elementary Students

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Olivia Ferguson McQueen Olivia Ferguson McQueen
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (WVIR) -

A civil rights activist who experienced her own victimization while growing up in Charlottesville is turning that negative experience into a positive one for the latest generation of students here.

Olivia Ferguson McQueen was denied her high school diploma back in the late 1950s, even though she earned it, because of her race.

Friday, students at Greenbrier Elementary School heard McQueen's story firsthand. McQueen was one of the 12 early plaintiffs suing to attend white schools in Charlottesville and now, she's sharing that struggle with elementary children.

“It was a struggle to put together the story in hopes that they would understand,” said McQueen.

McQueen was eventually allowed to attend her high school - currently the home of Jackson Burley Middle School - but her experience wasn't the same as the other students. She was forced to spend her days alone in the school board office behind the building. When it came time for graduation, McQueen was denied her hard-earned diploma and given a certificate instead.

"It didn't even say dear Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, she has completed the course studies, nothing like that; it was just courses,” said McQueen.

Fifty years later, McQueen was finally granted her diploma in a special ceremony this past summer. It was a day that brought back sad memories and was filled with joy at the same time.

"The most heartwarming part of it was there were friends I hadn't seen for 50 years,” said McQueen.

McQueen eventually got into the only college in the commonwealth that would accept her certificate, Hampton University.

"She just kept pressing on, hoping that she, her family and other people would help stop the segregation,” said Brehanu Bugg, fourth-grade student.

McQueen has spent the majority of Black History Month sharing her story. She was even invited to the White House and thanked by President Obama for her sharing her story with others.

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