Fifty-five years is an awfully long time to wait before giving an African-American man the diploma he was denied because he had a picnic in park that was off-limits to blacks.
The Galesburg, Illinois, class of ’59 had its 55th reunion over the weekend and someone thought it might be a good idea to give Alva Early his diploma, NPR reports.
After Early was denied his diploma, several colleges withdrew their acceptance letters. He did OK; he became a lawyer. But still…
“The fact that I could not get a cap and gown on and march down the aisle with my classmates — it meant the world to me,” he says. “It hurt so bad.”
He kept it a secret until a Knox College reunion last year, when he told some of those former high school classmates, including Owen Muelder.
“Well, we were thunderstruck,” says Muelder, a Knox College historian who runs the Underground Railroad museum on campus.
“Here’s this community and college founded before the Civil War, that was a leader in the anti-slavery movement,” he says, “and here it was that a little over 100 years later something so outrageous could have occurred in our community.”
“The important thing was not that I got the diploma,” he said. “It was that they tried to get me a diploma. They succeeded. They cared about me.”