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Luverne Civil Rights’ era graduate dies

The integration of the school system in Crenshaw County saw many tumultuous changes, as was happening all over the nation during the 1960s and 1970s.

In Crenshaw County, however, one young man moved forward into a new phase in his life, leaving both a legacy of change and a path for those coming after him to follow in the future.

Joseph Harry McDonald, who was known as “Joe,” passed away on Feb. 13, 2009, at the age of 59. He was the first African American student to receive a diploma from Luverne High School in May of 1969. He first enrolled at LHS in 1965; before that, he attended Woodford Avenue High School.

He was a student in the first desegregated class at LHS. He later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Troy State University.

Classmate and Probate Judge Jim Perdue remembers McDonald fondly as a “quiet warrior, a humble student, and a patient friend.”

“(The fact that Joe was the first African American student to receive a diploma from LHS) does not adequately mark this historic occasion,” Perdue stated in a letter to the family. “In a time of tumultuous change, Joseph was the calm in the storm of unrest. Joseph faced hatred, violence, uncertainty, fear and prejudice with patience, courage and quiet leadership of example.”

McDonald’s brother, Bennie F. McDonald of Luverne, wishes to establish a memorial scholarship in his brother’s name, one that would be given to a student of any race who has persevered and succeeded in the face of social disadvantages and what may seem like social impossibilities. He and his family are currently seeking donors for the memorial scholarship.

“I would love to be able to give an LHS senior at least a $500 memorial scholarship each year in my brother’s memory,” McDonald said. “I believe this would be a wonderful way not only to honor my brother, but also a way to continue to help our children for their futures.”