Illinois High School to Award Diploma to African-American After 55 Years

Illinois High School to Award Diploma to African-American After 55 Years

Alva Earley was denied his diploma after attending a picnic at a park that was off limits to Black people at the time.

Published August 7, 2014

Alva Earley, an African-American man from Galesburg, Illinois, will finally receive his high school diploma more than five decades after it was denied to him. He will receive the document on Friday at a reunion for the Galesburg High School class of 1959.

The school district in Western Illinois had originally denied Earley his diploma after he attended a picnic at North Lake Storey Park, an area off limits to Black people at the time. Earley said the University of Chicago and Northwestern University rescinded their admission offers as a result.

"Both letters were short, terse, and quickly to the point," Earley wrote to the University Herald. "They said something like, 'It is our regret to inform you that it is NOT our policy to accept a student who is NOT recommended by his high school.’”

Despite receiving subsequent rejections from several additional colleges, Earley was admitted to the Know College in Galesburg. Yet, due to housing and financial problems, he only completed two years of school.

Earley ultimately continued his education at the University of Illinois, the Chicago Kent Illinois Institute of Technology and Northwestern University, obtaining a bachelor of science degree, a jurisprudence degree and a doctor of divinity degree.

Even with two doctorate degrees, he was still denied a federal government job because he lacked a high school diploma.

School district Superintendent Bart Arthur said he hopes that the presentation of Earley’s diploma will make up for some of the injustice, The Southern reports.

"This school board is doing the right thing when they don't have to, and I am very grateful for that," Earley said.

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(Photo: Thomas Barwick/GettyImages)

Written by Patrice Peck


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