Seven members of the Class of 1969, or their representatives, will receive their original high school diplomas and the Board of Education will recognize 15 other former students whose distribution of diplomas was disrupted following a civil rights protest at La Plata High School.
The Board of Education of Charles County on June 10 will celebrate the members of the Class of 1969 who were instrumental in changing the way La Plata High School selected its Majorettes and Warriorettes. The students were protesting the method of selecting squad members, which they felt was unjust. The students led a sit-in/walk-out at La Plata in the school cafeteria after no Black students were selected for the 20 spots on the two squads.
The Board plans to confer the seven diplomas to the former students or their representatives on June 10 at La Plata High School. The Board is also celebrating the activism of the students, which led to a change in the selection process for the two teams.
The students actions, according to a June 5, 1969, article in the Maryland Independent, closed down the cafeteria by blocking access to students during the lunch shifts. Students were joined by non-student residents who continued the protest as leaders met with then-Superintendent Bruce Jenkins.
As a result of the protest, according to the June 3, 1969, Board meeting minutes, the Board unanimously accepted an administrative decision that senior participants in the walk-out would be permitted to participate in the exercises of graduation, but their diplomas would not be given the same night. Diplomas would be mailed to the students on June 12, at the closing of the 1968-69 school year, according to the minutes. Diplomas were mailed on June 6 to the approximately 20 students who did not receive them on graduation night. Seven diplomas were returned to the Board of Education in late June and marked unclaimed.
In a June 2, 1969, memo, the Board determined the 1969 selection for the Majorettes and Warriorettes was undemocratic and it abolished the selection, and named a committee composed of both white and Black members. Try-outs were rescheduled for August, which resulted in a more diverse membership among the 20 selected students.
“Since we learned in February 2020 about this injustice, the Board has been attempting to honor these activists and deliver the returned diplomas to the former students,” Board Chairperson Latina Wilson said. “Our efforts were slowed by the pandemic which did not allow us to provide an in-person ceremony where we could publicly and properly recognize their civil rights activism and bravery in a memorable way,” Wilson said.
Due to social distancing regulations, attendance is by invitation only. Charles County Public Schools staff plans to record the ceremony and make it available through its website at ccboe.com.