Fredericksburg commemorated the first civil rights action in the city’s history Thursday.
The all-Black Walker-Grant High School wanted to hold graduation ceremonies in the Fredericksburg community center in 1950.
At first, they were denied access to the whites only building. Then they were told they could enter only through a side door.
According to Lateefah Muhammad, daughter of a 1950 graduate, this was the class president’s reply: “Mr. Walker is reported to have said they would rather get their diplomas on the sidewalk than to be forced to use the side entrance.”
They graduated inside Shiloh Baptist Church instead but not without staging a march.
“I know they probably was a little scared and all this, but they had to have courage to do that in 1950,” Fredericksburg resident Sonny Holmes said.
“I remember marching up the middle of the street to the community center,” said William Noel, class of 1950.
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“We did it to make a statement,” he said.
“We always stood up for what we thought was right,” said Roger Williams, class of 1950.
“Our parents were paying taxes and things, and so we should be able to, you know, use the community center,” he said.
But the story of that day was rarely repeated and largely forgotten.
“Some of the things you don’t talk about because you just don’t want people to know that, that you had to go through that,” Holmes said.
When he finally heard the story from one of the marchers, he began working on a way to bring it to life again. With the city’s help, a ceremony was held to dedicate an historical marker in front of the very building to which the graduates had been denied access.
“I think it’s real important that the younger people coming along will understand what happened then and look to the future,” Noel said.
“It takes time, maybe takes a long time, but truth always come to the top,” Williams said.
Walker-Grant High School ended in 1968 as Fredericksburg’s schools integrated. It later became a middle school.