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University of Arkansas Honors Past Graduate Denied Commencement

Black woman's family receives respect due her in 1951

Washington sent Gearhart an email. "I introduced myself, told him who my brother [Ernest] was. I told him about the look of hurt and disgust in my mother's eyes. I had always wished that one of us could receive her degree in the manner that was denied her."

She heard from his office within two days. "He thanked me for my email," Washington says. "He apologized. He said the university is not the same as it was then. He wanted to do something to make it right."

A more inclusive university

Soon afterward, the vice provost of diversity, Charles Robinson, held a conference call with Washington and her brother Ernest. The Greens were officially invited to this year's commencement for a special presentation in honor of their mother.

"The university is happy to offer some degree of correction to this past wrong," says Robinson. "We are a much more inclusive university now, and we attempt to ensure that all of our students know that they are important members of the Razorback family."

Gearhart says that it's likely that Green was not the only person to be denied her right to participate in commencement, "but her family's participation represents our interest in — and our public commitment to — acknowledging that past."

The past met the present at Saturday's commencement when Washington, accompanied by her son, Todd, accepted her mom's honorary diploma. She received a standing ovation from the crowd that included 4,000 graduates.

"I'm overwhelmed," Washington says. "I really didn't expect anything like this. Extremely delighted. Delighted that the chancellor and the university 'got it.' This has demonstrated to me these are people who evidently care."

Next: Followed in her mother's footsteps. >>

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