Relive the Clinton 12 story, an all but forgotten account of desegregation during the Civil Rights Movement, at Tennessee’s Green McAdoo Cultural Center.
I was a guest of Anderson County, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Clinton 12 Story
- 1.1 Civil Rights and Me
- 1.2 The Green McAdoo Cultural Center
- 1.3 The Clinton 12 – Walking into History
- 1.4 The Clinton 12 Story
- 1.5 West Broad Street
- 1.6 Historic Clinton High School
- 1.7 Mt. Sinai Baptist Church
- 1.8 First Baptist Church
- 1.9 Hoskins Drug Store
- 1.10 The Clinton 12: A Documentary Film
- 1.11 Disney Channel’s Cameron Boyce Honors the Clinton 12
- 1.12 Map It!
- 1.13 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 1.14 Pin this Post!
- 1.15 Helpful Links
The Clinton 12 Story
You may have heard the story of Arkansas’s heroic Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who integrated Central High School in 1957, but did you know they were not the first secondary students to take these courageous steps?
On August 27, 1956, twelve African American young people from Clinton, Tennessee, became the first students to desegregate a public high school in the American South.
The brave students who entered Clinton High School on that historical day and would thereafter be known as The Clinton 12 were: Maurice Soles, Anna Theresser Caswell, Alfred Williams, Regina Turner Smith, William R. Latham, Gail Ann Epps Upton, Ronald Gordon “Poochie” Hayden, JoAnn Crozier Allen Boyce, Robert Thacker, Bobby Cain, Minnie Ann Dickey Jones, and Alvah McSwain.
This historical action and the turbulent events of the next few months made national news at the time. Sadly, the story has been all but forgotten, overshadowed, and overlooked through the passage of time, except by those who were there.
The Clinton 12 story is an account of how one diverse community set aside their differences and came together to do the right thing, both legally and morally.
This defining moment in the Civil Rights movement deserves not only to be preserved, but also to receive national recognition for its role in the ongoing struggle for the equality of all Americans.
Civil Rights and Me
I am a strong advocate for human and civil rights. I believe that the pursuit of freedom and equality for all people is the most important moral and legal issue of our times.
That said, it will come as no surprise that in my 35-year tenure as a public school teacher, this belief influenced my lessons, and I made it a priority in my classroom. The two most powerful units of study I taught the second semester of each school year were the Civil Rights Movement and the European Holocaust.
In two days, as I write, I will be leaving to cover even more Civil Rights destinations in Mississippi and Tennessee.
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center
On August 26, 2006, one day before the 50th anniversary of the Clinton High School desegregation, the Green McAdoo Cultural Center celebrated its grand opening.
The 1935 Green McAdoo Grammar School was the site where black students in Clinton were educated from first through eighth grades.
Junior high and high school students were bussed 20 miles to Knoxville, even though Clinton High School was within walking distance of their neighborhood.
This historical school was chosen to house a Smithsonian-quality museum and cultural center that would interpret and preserve the history of desegregation in Clinton and honor the town’s citizens, both black and white, who worked to attain educational equality in Anderson County, Tennessee.
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center would be the first stop on my Clinton, Tennessee, Civil Rights itinerary.
The Clinton 12 – Walking into History
On arrival, visitors to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center are greeted by a moving sculpted display entitled The Clinton 12 – Walking into History.
A dozen life-sized bronze statues depict the students as they made the historic walk from their neighborhood on Foley Hill to integrate Clinton High School.
The Large Art Company of Baltimore, Maryland, was commissioned to design and sculpt this commemorative display under the leadership of master sculptor William F. Duffy.
Before beginning the project, designers studied archival photos and met with each of the eleven surviving students.
“We learned that not everyone reacted to these events the same way. Some were afraid, some were proud and determined, some were angry, and some were ambivalent. We would eventually portray this range of emotions in bronze.”
The day of my visit, I observed the collective sculpture from many angles before entering the museum and again before leaving. I was moved greatly, and could not stop taking pictures of this powerful display.
To go behind the scenes and learn more about the creation of the sculptures, read the step-by-step account entitled The Large Art Company Completes Historic Sculptures in Tennessee.
The Clinton 12 Story
The Clinton 12 Story, as interpreted in the museum at the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, begins with a video introduction in a 1950s period classroom.
Teacher Mrs. Theresa Blair narrates, educating visitors about life in the South during the Jim Crow era, the local McSwain v. Anderson County (1952) lawsuit, and its connection to the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case.
My assigned guide for the day was Jerry Shattuck, a community leader who had been a senior at Clinton High School in 1956. Meeting a living witness from the period was an honor, but first impressions are not always accurate. I would learn more about Jerry and his role in the Clinton 12 story as the day progressed.
The 1950s Period Classroom
Several historical artifacts from the period are on display in the classroom including a typewriter used by Clinton Courier editor Horace Wells, a book bag that belonged to Clinton High School Principal D.J. Brittain, and a desk from the office of Sidney Davis, attorney who served on both sides of the desegregation issue.
The Desegregation Gallery
Following the introductory video, visitors move into a large gallery that tells the Clinton 12 story by highlighting key events in the historical timeline with interactive videos and displays.
In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had ruled the that the doctrine of “separate, but equal” was unconstitutional in public education. In a subsequent case, Brown v. Board of Education II (1955), the court ordered that public schools must be integrated with all “deliberate speed.”
Following the Brown II decision, Judge Robert Taylor, who had previously ruled against the plaintiffs in McSwain v. Anderson County, reversed his decision and ordered the school board to end segregation prior to the 1956-57 school year.
Historically, although segregation was practiced in public spaces and in daily life, blacks and whites in Clinton, Tennessee, got along well and life was peaceful. Clinton residents for the most part considered themselves law-abiding citizens, and whether they liked the ruling or not, they agreed to accept it.
Over the summer, community leaders, parents, teachers, and students had a series of meetings in preparation for integration.
Registration day was peaceful, and so was the first day of school.
But it would not last.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was often accused of being an “outside agitator” when he would lend his support to protests in distant towns.
The reverse happened when racist segregationists and Ku Klux Klan members John Kasper and Asa Carter arrived in Clinton and began to stir up trouble.
On the second day of school, Kasper convinced a handful of locals to protest integration outside the school, but they left after a few minutes.
When the story made national news, racist segregationists from across the country began arriving in town, at first 50, then 500, then thousands.
Hundreds of national and international media also poured into town, and the protest in Clinton became the lead story on nightly network news shows.
The efforts of Kasper and Carter paid off. Their vitriolic speeches fanned the flames of hatred, and there were nightly mobs. Hooded KKK members began driving through the Foley Hill neighborhood and setting off dynamite.
Clinton High teachers and administrators became targets of abuse with anonymous phone calls and threatening letters.
The efforts of Kasper and Carter induced some name-calling and spitballs in Clinton High School classrooms and hallways initially, but eventually, students got used to integration.
The ugliness continued on the outside, however, and and black students had to have police escorts home.
While in Clinton, John Kasper worked to establish a White Citizens Council, but many residents refused to join ranks with his efforts.
He also attempted to form a Junior White Citizens Council at Clinton High School, but only ten to twenty students joined. Even so, his intervention provoked some white students to torment black students with taunts, hair-pulling, and stepping on heels.
Principal Brittain recruited Jerry Shattuck and members of the football team to patrol the hallways and keep the peace. Their positive example set a peaceful tone within the school.
On Labor Day weekend, outsiders continued to flood into town. There were no interstate highways in those days, and US Route 25W passed directly down Clinton’s Main Street, making it an easy destination.
With the ever-increasing crowd, tensions mounted, and local officials requested assistance from Governor Frank G. Clement.
Clinton had a small police force, so forty home guard men were deputized to keep the peace in the interim. Most of them were former veterans who carried their own weapons. They set aside their personal feelings on school desegregation in order to thwart mob rule.
Later that evening, the first reinforcements arrived with a parade of more than one hundred state troopers who drove into town and circled the town square.
At 6 ft. 8 in., Officer Greg O’Rear was a giant of a man. The head patrolman climbed out of his car, slung his shotgun over his shoulder, and said, “Boys, it’s all over.”
And it was. The unruly crowd dispersed.
The following day, 635 National Guardsmen arrived with seven tanks and other military vehicles.
The governor’s order was an unpopular decision, according to some, but the town of Clinton was put under martial law for two weeks.
The following year, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus would call out the National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School.
When the National Guard left town, acts of violence continued, and by November tension was at an all-time high
December 5, was Election Day. Concerned about their safety, Clinton First Baptist pastor Rev. Paul Turner decided to escort the students down Foley Hill to the school.
As he headed back to church, White Citizen Council members jumped him and beat him. Bystanders were shouting, “Kill him!” When no one would help, Clinton resident Vivian Shoopman jumped into the fray, pulling their arms away from him as blood streamed down his face.
Turner eventually escaped the group, and several attackers were arrested.
Turner’s actions became an example to the citizens of Clinton, and the attack was a turning point that unified the community that had been loosely organized and undecided on the issue of segregation.
Hate mail started arriving in Turner’s mailbox, but he received letters of affirmation and support, as well.
The following Sunday, the First Baptist sanctuary was standing room only. Rev. Turner preached a powerful message of hope and reconciliation entitled “No Color Line at the Cross.”
His sermon included these words: “Here in Clinton we are not especially against integration, we are not especially against segregation, but we are positively and defiantly against the disintegration of our community and our body politic that we cherish above all things, realizing that where anarchy prevails, none of us have anything of any value, and none of us have any freedoms anymore.”
The controversy over desegregation had transitioned from a legal issue to a moral issue.
On Election Day, all pro-segregation candidates were defeated.
On May 17, 1957, Bobby Cain became the first African American to graduate from a court-ordered state-supported high school in the South.
When reporters caught up with him after commencement exercises, Cain commented, “It’s been a rough year, and I wouldn’t want to go through it again. But I’m not sorry that I went to Clinton High School.”
Before he could leave the school grounds, Cain was hit with a sucker punch.
The museum tour ends in an epilogue room that honors individuals who played central roles in the desegregation of Clinton High School. The walls are lined with photos of the Clinton 12 students and other honorable individuals who played key roles in the struggle.
One of the things that separates Clinton from Little Rock and other locations throughout the South is how local and state leaders as law-abiding citizens, regardless of personal feelings, supported the historic ruling and it subsequent changes in both word and deed.
I call it doing the right thing. And people who do the right thing in the face of extreme opposition will always be my heroes.
Although there were many brave individuals whose actions contributed to the successful integration of Clinton High School, Governor Clement, Principal Brittain, and Reverend Turner are three courageous men whose actions as leaders in the government and community brought real and lasting change.
CBS Edward R. Murrow See It Now: Clinton and the Law
Visitors to the Epilogue Room have the option to watch the January 6, 1957, CBS broadcast of See It Now on the big screen. The episode entitled Clinton and the Law: A Study in Desegregation, was narrated and produced by Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly.
The news documentary is an invaluable primary source and time capsule that includes Judge Taylor’s ruling, John Kasper’s speech, an interview with senior Jerry Shattuck, commentary by Principal Brittain, and an excerpt of Rev. Turner’s sermon.
The presentation is followed by an October 24, 1962, follow-up by Harry Reasoner on CBS Reports: The Other Face of Dixie.
Readers can view the original documentary at the video link above.
Not all courageous leaders during the Clinton desegregation were adults.
By the end of my visit to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, I would come to understand that my guide Jerry Shattuck had not been just another Clinton High School senior. As a teenager thrust into a decisive moment in history, he had used his position as student council president and captain of the football team as an opportunity to be a positive role model to his peers.
Former Clinton City Manager Steve Jones put it this way: “If my Uncle DJ (Brittain) said it once, he said it a half dozen times to me, ‘You know during those tough days in 1956, if it hadn’t been for Jerry Shattuck and his leadership role with the student body, I don’t know that Clinton would have ever survived . . . .”
Jerry Shattuck would later graduate from Princeton University, and become a successful attorney. He continues his role as a Clinton community leader to this day.
Hours and Admission
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center is open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday.
Call 865-463-6500 during hours of operation to schedule guided tours.
Although admission is free, tax-deductible donations are accepted.
To view period photos of the Clinton 12 story published in Life Magazine, check out “When Back-to-School Season Became a Fight for Equality.”
West Broad Street
Jerry accompanied me on a drive to a few key historical sites around town. This photo depicts a view of the route students took from the Foley Hill neighborhood down West Broad Street to reach Clinton High School.
Historic Clinton High School
The historic Clinton High School is now Clinton Middle School.
Acts of violence and intimidation continued in Clinton beyond the first year of desegregation.
Two years later, in the early morning hours of October 5, 1958, Clinton High School was rocked by three explosions, estimated to be the result of 150 sticks of dynamite.
Anderson County Schools chose the vacant Linden Elementary in neighboring Oak Ridge as an alternate location to continue the school year.
More than 200 volunteers from both communities went to work on the abandoned school and got it ready for occupancy in just three days. Classes resumed on October 9.
On the first day of school at the new location, rival Oak Ridge High band played the Clinton High School alma mater to welcome the 900 black and white students and teachers as they stepped off their buses.
Evangelist Billy Graham helped raise money to rebuild the school during a five-day crusade in the Clinton High School gymnasium, with 5000 people in attendance.
No arrests were ever made in the school bombing.
Mt. Sinai Baptist Church
During the the period of mob violence and threats to their community, women and children would sleep in basement of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. Armed husbands and fathers would stand guard.
First Baptist Church
Rev. Paul Turner pastored Clinton First Baptist Church during desegregation. He preached his “No Color Line at the Cross” message at this location.
Hoskins Drug Store
Hoskins Drug Store has served Clinton since 1930.
Situated across Main Street from the Anderson County Courthouse, this historical pharmacy had a front row seat during the tumultuous desegregation of Clinton High School.
For lunch, Jerry and I enjoyed cheeseburgers and fries from the Hoskins soda fountain, a fitting “historical” meal, in my opinion.
The Clinton 12: A Documentary Film
The Clinton 12: A Documentary Film is an award-winning production written and directed by Keith McDaniel and narrated by James Earl Jones.
This 2006 documentary recounts the Clinton 12 story through archival photographs, video, and interviews with students and other members of the community who witnessed the events surrounding the desegregation of Clinton High School.
The film aired widely on PBS in 2008 and 2009. The DVD is available for purchase from the Green McAdoo Cultural Center.
Disney Channel’s Cameron Boyce Honors the Clinton 12
Readers may be familiar with Disney Channel’s Cameron Boyce. Cameron is the grandson of Clinton 12 student Jo Ann Boyce. In celebration of Black History Month, he discusses his grandmother’s role in the struggle to desegregate Clinton High School.
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited a Civil Rights destination? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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