While watching my daily dose of PBS evening television programming last night, I learned about a story of courage in America’s fight for racial equality in education.
In the summer of 1956, Clinton High School admitted the first black students into classes since the landmark Supreme Court decision on Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954. Located in the eastern Tennessee city of Clinton, Clinton High School was among the southern educational institutions that preserved segregation in schools.
After years of delay, a Federal District Court judge named Robert L. Taylor ordered the Anderson County, Tennessee School District (where Clinton High School was located) to follow the law and end segregation.
The first black students to be registered into the school were known as “The Clinton 12.” However, the historic victory for Tennessee’s desegregation movement came at a cost. Some students in the original Clinton 12 spoke of being harassed and assaulted by angry white students. The episodes of violence were escalated when John Kasper took the lead in organizing terror against Tennessee’s desegregation movement.
Kasper was the founder of the White Citizens Council, an ethnocentric organization that sought to preserve the principles of Jim Crow. Kasper was also a mentee to Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader and political speech writer Asa Carter. When Carter finally arrived in Clinton to assist Kasper with his pro-segregation activities, city officials had to appeal to Tennesse Governor Frank Clement for help.
The original Clinton 12 eventually had to move to another school in Oak Ridge, Tennessee after Clinton High School was severely bombed. Over 150 sticks of dynamite were used in the October of 1958 explosion. The school was later rebuilt with donations from various celebrities and national public figures, including Rev. Billy Graham.
Below is a list of the names of the original Clinton 12:
Maurice Soles, Mary Ann Dickey Jones
Gail Upton, Alvah McSwain
Ronald Hayden, William Latham
JoAnn Allen Boyce, Alfred Williams
Robert Thacker, Regina Turner Smith
Bobby Cain, Ana Caswell