More than half a century after she was a plaintiff in a lawsuit to integrate Virginia’s Charlottesville City Schools, 71-year-old Olivia Ferguson McQueen received her high school diploma on Saturday. The civil rights lawsuit was successful, the Huffington Post reports, but McQueen still spent her senior year sequestered from her peers and tutored in the school-board office, never receiving a diploma.
Despite the setback, McQueen attended Hampton University, earned a master’s degree in education from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and spent her career as an educator.
Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pamela Moran, and Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins awarded McQueen her diploma in a ceremony at what is now Burley Middle School. When McQueen was a student, Burley served as the black high school for both county and city students. It is now an Albemarle County school.
“What a day this is,” McQueen, who grew up on Ridge Street, said. “It really was a surprise when I received a call saying that something was being planned, but I didn’t know to what extent something was being planned.”
In the auditorium where she watched her peers graduate in June 1959, the school system and the Burley High Varsity Club celebrated McQueen’s contribution to generations of African-American school children who came after her.
“I would like to think that I have made a difference, and continue to make a difference,” she said after being handed a framed diploma by Atkins and Moran. “But the truth is, we have all made a difference.”
Read more at the Huffington Post.