Nine students from Alabama State University were denied their academic degrees 50 years ago after they participated in a Montgomery County civil rights protest. On May 8, three of the original nine expelled students finally got the chance to walk across the stage at the university’s 2010 commencement, according to BlackAmericaWeb.com.

Joseph Peterson, James McFadden and St. John Dixon were greeted with praise as they walked to receive the degrees they were once denied.

According to BlackAmericaWeb.com, the three men were identified as leaders of 35 students who participated in a Feb. 25, 1960 sit-in.  Peterson, McFadden and Dixon were expelled from school along with the six other students.

“We decided to sit-in at the courthouse because it was a public building,” McFadden told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “Citizens pay taxes and all citizens had right to be in that building.”

McFadden was only a few days shy of receiving his bachelor’s degree in physical education when he was expelled. Alabama State’s then-president persuaded state officials to begin the expulsion in early March, allowing him to complete his course requirements for graduation. But his degree was still withheld.

“The civil rights movement did not end with marches and the sit-ins of the 1960s,” McFadden said. “There is still much work to do. Each of us still has an obligation to do as has said: Step up to the plate, be the best that we can be and make change happen.”

According to BlackAmericaWeb.com, the other students expelled for their participation in the sit-in are Elroy Emory of Ragland, Ala.; Edward Jones of Pittsburgh, Penn.; Bernard Lee of Norfolk, Va.; Leon Rice of Chicago; Howard Shipman of New York City, and Marzette Watts of Montgomery, Ala.??Earlier this year the university reinstated the expelled students on the 50th anniversary of the sit-in. Degrees were conferred on all nine of them on May 8, but only Peterson, McFadden, and Dixon returned to campus to receive them personally.