I gather my topics of exploration from a variety of sources, and so do not recall how I learned about the town of Clinton, Tennessee being the seat of the first desegregated school in the South. No doubt I and many others may have assigned that moniker to Little Rock, Arkansas or Selma, Alabama. But unlike those stories, both the state of Tennessee and the Clinton city governments supported the, “Law of the Land” regarding desegregation.
The former Green McAdoo School (for colored students up to Grade 8) now serves as the Cultural Center and Museum. The exhibit is exceptionally well done, but is not an easy one to share as the collection involves considerable reading. Consider this a most abridged summary of my visit.
Prior to desegregation colored high school students had to bus into Knoxville (an hour one-way commute). Following the landmark desegregation ruling Clinton’s leaders, both religious and economic, and black and white joined with the 12 black students and their families to help “The Clinton 12” integrate.
But this did not sit well for some. Along came Agitators from outside of Tennessee.
The city rallied behind the families even in the face of rising violence. At one point, a local minister was physically attacked for supporting integration. Letters filled with hate poured into Clinton.
Including this one, sent by someone with the impeccable credentials of being a “100% WHITE SOUTHERNOR.”
Foley Hill, the neighborhood where many of the black families lived became a gathering point for Clinton in the struggle for equal rights for all citizens. During the worst of the violence, the black women and children slept in the church while the men guarded outside at night. The National Guard was called in for protection for a brief period, as well.
The first of the Clinton 12 to graduate was Bobby Cain.
At the peak of the violence, white supremacists bombed the high school in 1958 and destroyed the building, but not the spirit of the community. Citizens in nearby Anderson County, together with those from Clinton refurbished an an abandoned elementary school in Oak Ridge and Clinton High School was back in session in one week, still integrated.
Profiles of the Clinton 12 reveal the diverse pathways these students took. Some graduated from Clinton High School, others felt they were safer enduring the commute to Knoxville and left Clinton.
A short documentary on the Clinton 12 was awarded an Emmy Award.