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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Posthumous award for 1936 high school graduate denied top honours as principal vowed not to have a black valedictorian !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


When she graduated from high school in 1936, Fannetta Nelson should have followed in her sister's footsteps as valedictorian.
But in a slight the talented music student and pianist never forgot, the principal refused to let another black girl graduate top of the class.
Now, three years after her death, Miss Nelson as at last been honoured as valedictorian for the class of 1936 at Westinghouse High School, Pittsburgh.
Academic family: Sophia Nelson was valedictorian two years before her sister. Yesterday both were honoured by their school's alumni groupHonoured at last: Fannetta Nelson was named as valedictorian for the class of 1936 at a recognition ceremony yesterday, three years after her death
Her elder sister Sophia, now 93, accepted the award on her sister's behalf as both were honoured in a recognition ceremony by the school's alumni association yesterday.
She said: 'Her heart was broken by what the school did, really. She never stopped talking about it as long as she lived, that's how much it hurt.'
 
Her family had always claimed the school's principal had vowed not to allow another black valedictorian after Sophia became the first in 1934, pressuring a music teacher to lower her grades.
Just before his death, the teacher confessed to Miss Nelson's nephew  about what he'd done, saying he feared he would lose his job if he didn't agree to it.
He told Nelson Harrison he had always regretted it, but he died before he could apologise to Miss Nelson herself.
Academic family: Sophia Nelson was valedictorian two years before her sister. Yesterday both were honoured by their school's alumni group
Mr Harrison, who was taught by the teacher too and later played in a music group with him, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: 'It didn't make sense. We were not naive about racism. It wasn't hidden from us. It was in your face.'
This week the two sisters have been honoured with proclamations and resolutions from the mayor, city council, state House of Representatives and the state Senate.
Sophia said: 'I believe that in spirit, Fannetta is with us and appreciates the - I won't say tardy - recognition.'
Miss Nelson received the posthumous award after the president of the alumni association, Reggie Bridges, took up her cause. 
He said after reviewing transcripts and yearbooks he was convinced Miss Nelson's grades had been changed. She eventually graduated fourth out of 155 students.
He told the Post Gazette: 'We can't ever restore it back where everybody in her class will know it because most of them are dead. At least we can take some truth that we have and make it right.'
Doctored: The school's then-principal pressured Miss Nelson's music teacher to change her grades, leaving a blank line on her transcript
Doctored: The school's then-principal pressured Miss Nelson's music teacher to change her grades, leaving a blank line on her transcript
Joint honours: Fannetta and Sophia Nelson were both recognised as high school valedictorians. The two sisters went on to have successful academic careers
Joint honours: Fannetta and Sophia Nelson were both recognised as high school valedictorians. The two sisters went on to have successful academic careers
On her official transcript, still held in the school office, there is a line of blanked out grades. On the line for music - Miss Nelson's best subject -  the last three grades are Bs, which come after a row of As and just one B.
She wanted to be a classical concert pianist, but was told she couldn't be accepted on  the program because she was black.
Instead she went to the University of Pittsburgh, taking a master's there in 1960 . She eventually became a German teacher and worked at the state's Department of Education.
Her elder sister also became a teacher, earning a doctorate and then working as an English professor and department head at West Virginia State College.
They come from an academically gifted family - its member have earned more than 50 college degrees since 1928 from the University of Pittsburgh alone.
Although the school has honoured Miss Nelson, the district has not yet instated her as valedictorian on its records.
Mark Brentley, from the school board, said he plans to ask them to do so.
In her acceptance speech, Sophia said both she had her sister owed the honour to her parents.
He said: 'We had strong parents. We had been reared to perform and cope because you had to be better to be treated almost as an equal.'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374990/Posthumous-award-black-student-Fannetta-Nelson-denied-honours-principal.html#ixzz1JAlmTBtb

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