Woman Robbed from Becoming High School’s First Black Valedictorian Gets Justice – 38 Years Later
A Black woman was finally recognized as the valedictorian of her graduating class after a screening of the new documentary ‘No Title for Tracey,’ which tells her unbelievable story.
In 1984, Tracey Meares was supposed to be Springfield High’s first Black valedictorian, with the highest academic ranking at the Illinois high school.
Instead, the school declared her “top student” — alongside Heather Russell, a white student– forgoing the traditional valedictorian and salutatorian titles.
But recently, that all changed… well, sort of.
No Title for Tracey: The Unbelievable Story of Tracey Meares
Thirty-eight years later, Meares is valedictorian at last, after she was finally presented with the title after a screening of the documentary No Title for Tracey, which tells her story.
The documentary, directed by Illinois filmmaker Maria Ansley, tells a story of systematic racism in America.
Meares, a professor and legal expert at Yale College of Law, told the Journal-Register that she “had a lot of trepidation about coming back here and meeting my 17-year-old self.”
My first reaction is that it’s incredibly gratifying, but it’s also a lot to process.Tracey Meares to the Journal-Register
According to Meares’ father, Robert Blackwell, as graduation approached, her school counselor informed Meares that she was the top-ranked student in her class. However, Meares told the Illinois Times that a school employee went through her records, and that her counselor locked the cabinet “to keep anyone from getting in there again and tampering with my school record.”
At graduation, Meares and Heather Russell, a white student, were honored as the “top students” of the class. The valedictorian and salutatorian titles returned eight years later in 1992.
“It was incredibly upsetting when I was 17,” Meares told The Guardian. “I remain angry about it today, and sad.”
The Important Moment a Black Woman Became a High School Valedictorian
Jennifer Gill, the Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools District 186, told People that honoring Meares “with this title means so much more.”
“We want every student to have a feeling of belonging in all aspects of school and a sense of becoming as they leave our schools with a plan for college and career. It is our responsibility to ensure that our system supports students in reaching their full potential. We have seen that high school experiences can have a profound, lifelong impact,” she said. “It was an honor to have Tracey here and a privilege to learn from such an accomplished alumna.”
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Many observers, including Meares’ parents, Robert and Carolyn Blackwell, believe systemic or institutional racism led to the snub.
However, Robert told the Journal-Register that officially naming his daughter valedictorian is “an important gesture. “It’s like reconciliation in some way,” he said.
It may have come almost 40 years later, but this honor was well deserved. And even though it never should have happened in the fist place, it also proves it’s never too late to make things right.
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