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Expelled students get degrees

Albany Police Department Lt. James Williams, left, accepts a honorary degree posthumously on behalf of his mother, Bette Slater Williams, from Albany State University President Everette Freeman during Saturday’s commencement exercises at the Albany Civic Center.

Albany Police Department Lt. James Williams, left, accepts a honorary degree posthumously on behalf of his mother, Bette Slater Williams, from Albany State University President Everette Freeman during Saturday’s commencement exercises at the Albany Civic Center.

ALBANY — They were expelled in 1961. Fifty years later, they were honored Saturday with degrees from Albany State University.

Known as the “Class of 1961” for the year they were expelled, 32 received honorary bachelor degrees at ASU’s fall commencement. They joined the 435 students receiving their degrees through traditional academic achievement.

The 32 students were expelled because they had been arrested. At that time, standing up for civil rights against the prevailing segregation laws led to jail.

After 50 years, some of the expelled students had died. Relatives such as the son of Bette Slater Williams accepted the degree on the graduates’ behalf. They were also awarded a medallion that read, “Civil Rights Soldier.”

“My mother was pregnant with little old me when she was taken to jail for protesting,” said Albany Police Department Lt. James Williams. “I went to jail with my mother and it turned out that I’ve been with the police for the last 29 years.”

Williams said his mother returned to Albany State in 1964 to earn a degree and spent 30 years teaching in the Dougherty County School System. Many others in the 1961 class went on to earn degrees and launch careers.

One was Andrew Williams, James Williams’ uncle, a math major at Moorehouse College. Andrew Williams entered the U.S. Air Force and earned a masters degree as an aerospace engineer.

“We stood up and got arrested for civil rights,” Andrew Williams said. “For that we got expelled. Getting this degree is an honor for doing the right thing.”

Everette Freeman, ASU’s president, called the awarding of honorary degrees “historic.” It was the first time that such a large number of honorary degrees had been allowed by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

The year-long effort to have the degrees approved for presentation was undertaken by the ASU Student Government Association, the faculty and the administration.

Traditional 2011 graduate in computer science Dominique Johnson said, “It is beautiful to have them here with us. They made it possible for us to have our civil rights. They deserve to be honored.”

Commencement speaker Bernice Johnson Reagon, a class of 1961 member, was also honored with a doctorate degree. The Albany State expulsion didn’t stop her. She went on to a bachelors in history from Spelman College and a doctorate from Howard University.

“We didn’t go out to grab glory,” Reagon said, “but we did it because it needed doing.”

Comments

Darien 3 years ago

AS long as one lives in the pst they will never enjoy the future. This shows you a diploma is not worth the paper it is written on especially from ASU. People that was years ago. Get over it

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coachjohnson42 3 years ago

I applaud ASU for honoring those whom were unfairly expelled back in the 1960's. I just think it is far overdue. ALBANY STATE has come up in so many ways, and they showed a lot of class on saturday. Great Job ASU!!

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VSU 3 years ago

Now if they can just find a way to beat VSU.

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coachjohnson42 3 years ago

Even during that loss to VSU, ASU fans have shown more class than VSU. Overall, ASU has become one of the most respected institutions in the country. Sports is just a tiny aspect of the diversity and success of ASU.

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VSU 3 years ago

What do you mean during that loss VSU has beaten ASU 13 other times, and that's not to mention the losses at basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball. If they were to have a spelling bee, VSU would beat them at that as well. I will admit ASU fans showed class during those losses. After all, they are used to getting their butts kicked by VSU at everything, so they just schrug it off, knowing the following week they would get a win playing a weak team.

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coachjohnson42 3 years ago

I'm sure some "illegal recruiting" has taken place at VSU for many years also.....

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AuntieDee 3 years ago

Darien we are over the oppression by people like you. It seems as if you are the one living in the past with your undertone racist attitude. These people did not let that one incident stop them. They went on to be mathematicians, aerospace engineers, recording artists, college professors,etc. My ASU degree has been quite good to me. I have a professional job and work with folks from VSU, LSU, GA, FL ST, AL, GA Tech,Standford, Purdue, etc. Guess what? We all hold the same positions and make the same salary. I suppose those universities used the same paper for degrees as did ASU. Now Darien, where did you get your degree from?

@VSU... Beating VSU is our least worry especially since y'all lost 4 games. Check our stats. We play sports for fun; not for an education.

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VSU 3 years ago

Good thing you play for fun, otherwise ASU life would suck. VSU might have lost 4 games, but none of the losses were against ASU. Why? Because ASU can't beat VSU. Just because you get a cheap degree handed to you doesn't mean you got an education. look at the DCSS. Half those students that pass can't even write their own name.

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coachjohnson42 3 years ago

@VSU;

The majority of the students at ASU do NOT come from the DCSS. They come from up north. Only a tiny percentage come from around here. Your racist attitude superseeds any point that you could possibly make. Give it up dude.....you make VSU look bad.

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