Posthumous Honorary Diploma To Be Awarded To Eunice Ross At NHS 2024 Commencement

JohnCarl McGrady •

Eunice Ross, a nineteenth-century Nantucket advocate for education equality and desegregation, will be awarded an honorary diploma at the 2024 Nantucket High School commencement ceremony on June 14. The Nantucket Historical Association will present the diploma in partnership with the Museum of African American History, the Town of Nantucket, and the Nantucket Public Schools.

“The awarding of this posthumous honorary diploma to Eunice Ross is so very important because it affirms Nantucket Public Schools' dedication to fostering an inclusive learning environment where every student has the opportunity to thrive,” NHS Superintendent Elizabeth Hallett said in a statement. “We not only celebrate Ross's enduring impact on our community but also acknowledge our ongoing commitment towards educational equity and justice in our schools and on our island.”

In 1839, Ross, a Black woman, became the first person of colour to pass the NHS entrance exam, which should have guaranteed her admission. But she was rejected because of her race, launching a lengthy battle over segregation in the island’s public schools. At the time, Black students were confined to a single one-room schoolhouse. Six years later, after multiple failed Town Meeting motions and political agitation from local abolitionists and education advocates that spiralled into controversial island-wide elections and a special Town Meeting featuring a satirical call to set up a new segregated school for red-haired students, the island’s school system was finally integrated.

6 a Petition
Petition submitted by Eunice Ross to Boston in 1845 while fighting for equal school rights. Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

“Honoring Eunice Ross will mark an important moment in our community,” said former Nantucket Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Kimal McCarthy. “We have an opportunity to acknowledge the past, celebrate the life and contributions of a proud Nantucket native, and at long last right a wrong.”

The integration of Nantucket’s public schools is not Ross’s only legacy. Because Nantucket’s Town Meeting and School Committee repeatedly refused integration, local advocates were forced to go to the state legislature, where they successfully advocated for the passage of the first law in the United States that guaranteed equal access to education regardless of race. Ross wrote a petition in favor of the law and ultimately was allowed admittance to NHS.

“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education which ended segregation in America’s public schools.” Noelle Trent, President and CEO of the Museum of African American History, said. “Honoring Eunice Ross acknowledges her sacrifice, and the long legacy of the civil rights struggle in this country.”

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News