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Otis Taylor gets diploma 57 years after getting kicked out of school

The blues singer said officials at Manuel High School in Denver didn't approve of his "scruffy" look in 1966.
Bluesman Otis Taylor
Posted at 2:42 PM, May 18, 2023

Blues singer Otis Taylor received his high school diploma 57 years after getting kicked out of his Denver high school because of his hair. 

The Denver Gazette reports that Taylor was expelled two months before graduating from Manual High School because he refused to cut his hair. 

"Back in the '60s, if you're Black, you had a James Brown haircut," Taylor told the Gazette. "You had volume on the top — but it had to be very close on the sides. I just let my hair grow, so it was a little longer on the sides. I might have had a little scruffy mustache, too."

The accomplished singer noted that he didn't believe he was being singled out because he was Black. He said school administrators were kicking out "white surfer kids, too."

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Instead of graduating, Taylor told the Gazette he moved to California to start his music career, which didn't sit well with his college-educated father.

"Now, for a Black man to go to college in the late '30s, that was a big deal," Taylor told the Gazette. "So he wasn't too happy that I didn't graduate from high school."

The Gazette reports that the effort to offer Taylor a diploma was years in the making. The publication says a photographer noticed a picture of Taylor at the school and learned he hadn't graduated. That photographer reportedly told district officials about the story, and they agreed to give him his diploma. 

"This is an opportunity to make that wrong right," school board vice president Auon'tai Anderson said, according to the Gazette.

In 2020, Colorado passed an anti-discrimination hair law, meaning what happened to Taylor is now against the law.