Paine College's Class of 1970 wasn't able to go through commencement exercises because of a race riot in Augusta.
On Sunday, those graduates will be recognized during the commencement for the Class of 2011, the college announced Wednesday. Also participating in the ceremony will be the Class of 1961 on its golden anniversary.
The race riot was sparked in May 1970 by the killing of a 16-year-old whose cries went unheard in a county jail. Six black men died during the riots. E. Clayton Calhoun, then Paine's president, and the faculty voted to temporarily close the college's doors. Graduating seniors received their diplomas through the mail, and there was no formal commencement that year.
Students had deep distrust of the Georgia National Guardsmen who were sent to protect the campus, viewing them as "containers" rather than "protectors." And Calhoun feared a repeat of the Kent State University incident of May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen fired on student protesters, killing four and wounding 10 others.
Paine students were taunted by others for failing to retaliate against white people during the riots. The faculty published a statement in The Augusta Chronicle on May 18, 1970, nine days after the killing of the black teen in jail, in which members said "we abhor violence in all forms but ... we abhor even more the injustices which spawn such violence." The faculty called for dialog between police and the community, both black and white, "whereby police and citizenry might learn to communicate with each other and to bring to light their mutual differences, to explore thri mutual problems, and to seek lasting solutions."
Current Paine College President George Bradley said in the Wednesday news release that the Class of 1970 and many other students "stood for equality and social justice for mankind."
"It is appropriate that we invite the Class of 1970 to participate in the College's Commencement exercises, an event that symbolizes a milestone in academic and scholarly excellence," Bradley said. "They were not afforded this honor due in 1970 and therefore it is fitting that we invite them to experience a formal Commencement exercise."