Why the Past Matters

From ABC:

Fannetta Nelson Gordon was finally recognized yesterday as the valedictorian of Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh—an honor denied her in 1936 because of her race.

Gordon died three years ago at age 88, but her sister, Sophia Phillips Nelson, 93, attended the ceremony sponsored by the Westinghouse Alumni Association.

So determined, her family says, that Gordon overcame the wrong that was done to her when the school principal pressured music teacher Carl McVicker to change Gordon’s grade from an A to a B so she wouldn’t be first in her class—an honor that her older sister, Sophia, had achieved two years earlier. The principal didn’t want two black valedictorians within two years, the family says.

Gordon—whose official transcript ranked her fourth in the 155-student class—went on to become the accompanist for the National Negro Opera Company and played at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, she became a high school German and English teacher and later was named by the governor as a senior adviser for English and foreign languages in the state Education Department.

But she never got over being deprived of her rightful status as valedictorian, her family says. “It was one of the most painful episodes of her life,” says her niece, Gloria Wofford. “He erased her A and gave her a B because she was black.”

The past matters – because when it was the present, it affected real people whose futures became a new present.

If you don’t remember the past, then there is no chance whatsoever that anything will ever be done to try to undo past evils, much less prevent future ones.

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