ON THIS DATE in 1958, eighteen-year-old Josephine Boyd Bradley became the first African American to graduate from a previously all-white public school in North Carolina.
The graduation ceremonies dropped the curtain on a harrowing senior year at Greensboro High School. Forty-six years later, Boyd Bradley could remember little of what happened on June 4, 1958, although she did recall a phone call in which a stranger threatened that a coffin would be waiting for her if she attended the ceremony. “I think she had a very, very bad year,” a former schoolmate told the Los Angeles Times in 2004.
Boyd Bradley was one of 11 black students to integrate North Carolina schools in the fall of 1957, the same time that nine teenagers were integrating Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. She received less attention than the Arkansas students and, being the only black person among 1,949 white students, was more isolated. Some of her classmates called her names, pelted her with snowballs and eggs, spat in her food, and spilled ink on her books. The abuse continued after school hours with the slashing of the family car’s tires and the killing of two pet dogs.
In 2004, Boyd Bradley returned to the Greensboro school, which had been renamed Grimsley High, and spoke to students at an assembly. She finished to an ovation and later received a thank-you card from students. “You are an inspiring, intelligent and amazing person,” wrote one, and another said, “I appreciate everything you did for us.”