Otis Taylor wasn’t allowed to graduate high school because of his hair. He finally got his diploma 57 years later.

When he was 17 and in his senior year at Denver High School, Otis Taylor was told to “cut your hair or leave it.” Therefore, Taylor left – and became a famous blues artist. Now, after more than half a century, he has finally received his long-awaited diploma.

A Denver Post clipping shows a 14-year-old Otis Taylor with his banjo.

Otis Taylor

Taylor, now 74, was born in Chicago and grew up in Denver, Colorado. When he entered Manuel High School in the 60s, racial discrimination Nothing was unusual in public schools and there were no rules preventing officials from making decisions based on his or other black students’ hair. It was not until recent years that Crown Act, which means “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair” and prohibits discrimination based on hair style and texture, has moved forward in states and Congress.

At that time he said CBS News Coloradohe had a “James Brown haircut.”

“You can have whatever you want on the top, but you have to be clear on the sides,” he said. “The whole school district was coming down on people who didn’t look the way they wanted you to look.”

And he wasn’t ready to give up the freedom of his style, so when the authorities gave him an ultimatum, he went on a mission to “find out how to make my music”.

“I remember that day thinking, ‘Oh, I’m out of school!'” he recalled.

So he moved to California where his father lived. After a few years and a tour of London, he signed with Blue Horizon Records, according to him website. But he soon returned to Boulder, where he’s been playing music on and off ever since, earning coveted fellowships, awards and devoted fans.

And last week, he finally got a recognition that has been out of reach for decades – his high school diploma.

“Today is a day for us to correct the failures of the past,” Denver School Board Vice President Avontai Anderson said at the graduation ceremony. “I know what Otis experienced with others will never happen again in the state of Colorado.”

And while receiving the diploma was a happy occasion, Taylor told CBS Colorado that her life has been good enough to not regret or dwell on what happened all those decades ago.

“This wrong happened a long time ago. As a black man in America, I’m going to deal with wrongs,” he said. “My kids went to college, my wife loves me, we’ve been married 37 years, how can I regret it?”

So what comes next for Taylor? He posted a hint on his band’s Facebook page.

“Now that I have my diploma, maybe I can apply to the Berklee School of Music. [sic]”

Otis Taylor finally received his high school diploma more than half a century after being expelled for his hair.


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