Illinois HS diploma awarded 55 years after racist denial

Alva Earley
Alva Earley

Galesburg, IL (KWQC/CNN) – An Illinois man just received something he deserved decades ago, his high school degree.

Find our how racism kept him from his diploma, and how he finally got it.

Alva Earley was a senior at Galesburg High School getting ready for college.

“I had already been accepted by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University,” Earley said.

With graduation right around the corner, Earley and some friends started talking about going to North Lake Storey Beach to have a picnic.

There was an unwritten rule that African Americans weren’t allowed to go there.

His intentions soon reached his college counselor.

“He said ‘boy, if you go to northside of Lake Storey, you will not graduate and you will not attend college.’ I thought he couldn’t do anything to me because I was already accepted,” Earley recalls.

But they went anyway.

A move that had serious consequences.

He received letters stating that he wasn’t going to college. That’s not all.

“I was told don’t go get suited up for cap and gown because you aren’t graduating. That was a week before graduation. Graduation came and went,” Earley said.

And with it, went his diploma.

Last fall he visited a few high school friends and shared his story.

“We were talking about how wonderful Galesburg High School was and I said, I didn’t have much fun because I didn’t graduate,” Earley said.

He classmates sprung into action, calling on the school superintendent to do something about the injustice.

“When they requested that I look it up, they were correct, he had enough credits to graduate, had his transcripts signed and everything,” District 205 Superintendent Bart Arthur said.

Arthur says it’s his honor to award Alva Earley his diploma.

“It’s more about what he accomplished and we need to honor that,” Authur said.

Earley eventually received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois. He then received a doctor of jurisprudence degree from Chicago Kent Illinois Institute of Technology and a doctor of divinity degree from Northwestern University.

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