75 Years Later, Black Student Finally First In Class

This week, Fannetta Nelson Gordon got the recognition denied her 75 years ago because of her race. She was posthumously named valedictorian of Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, Fanetta Nelson Gordon finally got the recognition denied her 75 years ago. She was a brilliant student at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, a piano prodigy who'd go on to become a concert performer and a teacher.

She was in a position to be the valedictorian of her class in 1936, as her older sister Sophia had been just two years earlier. But her music teacher later confided that he had been pressured by the principal to change Fanetta Nelson Gordon's grade from an A to B so the school wouldn't have two black valedictorians within two years. She always got A's for music.

An alumni group who reviewed her transcript and other records say that erasure marks are clear where the B was written in. This week, the Westinghouse alumni association officially recognized Fanetta Nelson Gordon as valedictorian of the Class of 1936.

She died three years ago at the age of 88. So her older sister, 93-year-old Sophia Phillips-Nelson, accepted the honor for her. And like a lot of big-city public schools, Westinghouse was having troubled times. But Reggie Bridges, head of the alumni association, says the lesson of the sisters will tell today's students, if these sisters could do it in the 1930's, you can do it.

(Soundbite of music)

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