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

When he was 17 and in his senior year at a Denver high school, Otis Taylor was told to “cut his hair or go.” So, Taylor left – and became a renowned blues artist. Now, more than half a century later, he has finally graduated with his long-awaited degree.

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

Otis Taylor

Taylor, now 74, was born in Chicago and raised in Denver, Colorado. By the time he arrived at manual high school in the 1960s, racial discrimination in public schools was not uncommon and there were no laws preventing officials from making decisions based on his or her hair. other black students. It is only in recent years that the CROWN Act, which stands for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair” and prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture, has made progress in states and in Congress.

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

“You can have whatever you want on top, but you have to be clean on the sides,” he said. “The whole school district was going after people who didn’t look like what they wanted you to look like.”

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

“I remember that day thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not in school anymore!'” he recalls.

So he ventured to California where his father lived. A few years and a trip to London later, he landed a contract with Blue Horizon Records, according to his website. But he soon found himself in Boulder, where he’s been playing music on and off ever since, earning coveted scholarships, awards and a dedicated fan base.

And last week, he finally got a recognition he hasn’t been able to achieve in decades: his high school diploma.

“Today is a day when we rectify the failures of the past,” Denver School Board Vice Chairman Auon’tai Anderson said at the graduation ceremony. “I know that what Otis and others went through will never happen again in the state of Colorado.”

And while graduation was a happy occasion, Taylor told CBS Colorado her life had been too good to regret or dwell on what happened all those decades ago.

“This wrong happened a long time ago. Being a black man in America, I will face the wrongs,” he said. “My kids went to college. My wife loves me, we’ve been married 37 years. How can I be sorry?”

So what’s next for Taylor? He offered a clue on his group’s Facebook page.

“Now that I have a degree, maybe I can apply to the Berkley School of Music [sic].”

Otis Taylor finally graduated from high school more than half a century after being kicked out for his hair.



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