|  Registration |  Members |  Contact  |  Site Map  |  Alerts  |  Archives/Photos   |  Subscription Services - Home Delivery Special!
Travel News Home Sports Business Opinion Entertainment Life Careers, Jobs Cars, Trucks, Autos Real Estate, Homes, Apartments  Shopping, Classifieds, Click & Buy Ads

'The Ultimate Risk'

Members of pioneering 'Clinton 12' recall high school's integration 50 years ago


CLINTON - Building for days, it was bloodshed's flashpoint.

Saturday night, Sept. 1, 1956: The end of a turbulent first week of the court-ordered integration of Clinton High School.

Whipped up by white supremacist John Kasper, the out-of-town crowd of protesters had swelled to hundreds, their cars clogging Main Street.

National media reports of the South's first integration efforts also lured hatred's followers to Clinton 50 years ago, recalls Jerry Shattuck, then captain of the high school football team and now a city councilman.

Legal twists of fate had thrust Clinton into the forefront of Southern public school integration efforts.

A federal judge who had first ruled in favor of the prevailing "separate but equal" doctrine in a Clinton lawsuit reversed himself after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan.

Judge Robert Taylor of Knoxville said that to comply with the new law of the land, integration in Clinton would proceed with "all deliberate speed" when school resumed in August.

On the first day of school, reporters and photographers outnumbered the meager band of protesters who watched as 12 black students walked down Foley Hill to Clinton High.

The brief demonstration made national TV news and headlines that night.

By Thursday and Friday mornings of that first week, 500 yelling, angry protesters clamored outside the school, several toting crude signs scrawled with racial epithets.

While black and white students nervously filed into school, the protesters spat on them.

"We had to walk through all this hostility," said Alfred Williams, one of those black students now called the "Clinton 12."

"Let me tell you, it definitely wasn't a good time with all those people calling us the n-word, and it wasn't a good feeling," Williams said.

"Yes, the Clinton 12 took the ultimate risk walking down the hill to face the wall of people who held hatred near and dear to their hearts," said Jo Ann Boyce, another member of the group who now lives in Los Angeles.

There were rumors that protesters planned to burn a cross at halftime during that week's Clinton High School football game with in-county rival Lake City.

An estimated 1,500 people, most of them from out of state, milled around under the trees in front of the picturesque Anderson County Courthouse the next night.

As they grew more restive, the newly sworn-in home guard went into action.

That 40-member guard had just been created to help the town's tiny police force keep the peace.

Guard members came from all walks of life - a dentist, football coach, factory workers - and they carried shotguns, side arms from their World War II days and a couple of tear gas canisters.

"They formed that phalanx, that armed line of men, and marched across the courthouse yard to disperse that mob," Shattuck said.

A tear gas canister was thrown to scatter the protesters, but they quickly regrouped.

"The mob was saying, 'Let's go get them. Let's take their guns away and kill (them),' " Shattuck said.

"I had been in 26 missions during World War II, but I was never as scared as that night," said H.J. "Hal" McAlduff. "The thing I remember, I have never felt so much hate."

McAlduff was a home guard member while his wife, Jane, waited at their nearby home with their three young daughters.

On the cusp of bloody violence, a long line of highway patrol cruisers from Knoxville, their sirens howling, rolled across the bridge over Clinch River.

"I never saw anything so wonderful in my life," McAlduff said.

"They made a circle of the courthouse square, and the lead cruiser pulled in front of Hoskins Drug Store," Shattuck said.

The head of the highway patrol, Greg O'Rear, slowly unfolded his 6-foot-8 frame from that cruiser.

O'Rear shouldered his double-barreled shotgun, "looked down on that mob and said, 'Boys, it's all over,' " Shattuck said.

"It was unbelievable," McAlduff said. "The feeling changed almost immediately."

Troubled times The timely arrival of O'Rear and company defused that tense night, and National Guard members marched into town the next morning, bayonets fixed, to keep the peace for the next two months.

More than 40 tanks were posted at major intersections during that time, and residents were forbidden under martial law to gather in large groups.

But Clinton's role at the vanguard of court-ordered school desegregation in the South was just beginning.

It would later include other violent outbursts and a renewed attempt to sow the seeds of hatred and prejudice.

Kasper had come back to Clinton that November to face trial on charges of sedition and inciting a riot, Shattuck said.

His return gave Kasper time to again foment unrest, this time in the high school hallways.

"He realized he needed to start some trouble inside the school, so he organized a junior White Citizens Council," Shattuck said.

That small group of students launched a campaign of harassment aimed at black students, pouring ink in their lockers, putting thumbtacks on their seats, jostling them in the hallways.

Shattuck said Clinton High Principal D.J. Brittain enlisted football players to serve as hall monitors.

The unrest soon subsided, but not before Clinton's integration troubles again grabbed national media attention.

"Before you know it, the mob formed again," Shattuck said, and worried black parents kept their children home from school.

It all climaxed on one day: Dec. 4, 1956.

That was when the Rev. Paul Turner, pastor of First Baptist Church, was severely beaten by a band of thugs after he escorted the Clinton 12 down Foley Hill.

It was when other ruffians, again incited by Kasper, tried to invade the high school band room but were chased off by one brave student, a trumpet player.

And it was the same day when, in response, outraged residents swarmed to the polls to overwhelmingly defeat the anti-integration candidates running for mayor and city council.

"This was all in one day, and this was the end of the trouble," Shattuck said.

Or so residents of Clinton thought at the time.

Oct. 5, 1958 But the bleakest day in the history of school integration in Clinton was yet to come.

It arrived before dawn Oct. 5, 1958, the third year of desegregation. An estimated 75 to 100 dynamite sticks planted in three spots in Clinton High School were touched off in successive blasts, leveling most of the school but injuring no one.

Despite a federal investigation, no one was ever arrested for the crime that once more propelled Clinton into the national limelight.

That low point was quickly followed by a triumph of cooperation by residents.

It was decided that Clinton High School students could use the abandoned Linden Elementary School on LaSalle Road in Oak Ridge as a temporary facility.

Following a hectic week of frenzied cleanup and repairs by volunteers throughout Anderson County, the school was ready.

A caravan of school buses carrying black and white students from Clinton rolled into the replacement school's parking lot.

Clinton and Oak Ridge then and now are bitter high school football rivals, Shattuck said, "but as the kids get off the bus, there's the Oak Ridge High School band in full uniform and formation, and they play the Clinton High School alma mater."

Legacy of the Clinton 12 Clinton's lead role in 1956 in Southern school integration slipped into history's footnotes, largely because that role was overshadowed by events a year later in Little Rock, Ark. There, in September 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus blocked nine students from integrating Central High School, forcing President Eisenhower to call out federal troops on behalf of the "Little Rock Nine."But with the 50th anniversary of Clinton's school integration looming, events have unfolded that ultimately will give new life to a dilapidated building that once served as the school for the area's black children.

The abandoned Green McAdoo building that overlooks downtown Clinton - where the Clinton 12 gathered each morning for their historic walks - is about to become the Green McAdoo Cultural Center.

Built in the 1930s and at first called the Clinton Colored School, the building was renamed the Green McAdoo School in 1948 in honor of a black soldier and community activist.

Last used as a day-care center, the building two years ago faced an uncertain future, and city officials then had even considered razing it.

But then Marilyn Hayden had a brainstorm.

Hayden is a member of the tiny Asbury United Methodist Church next door, and the church in 2004 was observing the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Hayden said she and Pastor Alan Jones talked about all the information he had compiled.

"He said he needed somewhere to put it other than the basement of the church," Hayden said. "The light bulb went on."

Talks about preserving Green McAdoo and making it into a museum began.

"I knew it was going to happen from day one," Hayden said. "I just truly believed it would."

Members of the newly formed Green McAdoo Cultural Organization obtained a nonprofit charter and went before City Council in August 2004. They won an enthusiastic endorsement of their plans.

Events unfolded quickly. The 3,500-square-foot building received national recognition as a historic building.

A $750,000 federal appropriation was announced last year, and the City Council and Anderson County Commission chipped in $55,000 each to help pay for the restoration.

The project is expected to total about $1.8 million, City Manager Steve Jones said, and fund-raising efforts continue.

The museum will include a re-creation of a classroom and exhibits that will be "an historically accurate depiction of events in Clinton," he said.

Jones said life-sized, bronze statues of the Clinton 12 are being created and will be placed in front of the cultural center.

The Green McAdoo Cultural Organization has set an Aug. 26 deadline for opening the center to coincide with the first day of integration 50 years ago.

"I feel like this will garner a lot of national and international attention," Jones said.

"It tells a great story about a great community and the remarkable people that lived here."

Bob Fowler, News Sentinel Anderson County editor, may be reached at 865-481-3625.

Get Copyright Permissions Copyright 2006, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!


BOB FOWLER
NEWS SENTINEL

Jason Foster, left, a student at Anderson County Learning Center, joins three of the original "Clinton 12" before they re-enact their historic walk down Clinton’s Broad Street on Feb. 10. From left are AlfredWilliams, Bobby Cain and Maurice Soles.

NEWS SENTINEL

Outside Clinton High School in September 1956, protesters made their anti- integration views evident.

NEWS SENTINEL

Law enforcement officers move in at the Anderson County Courthouse on Sept. 1, 1956, during unrest sparked by the integration of Clinton High School. World War II veteran H.J. "Hal" McAlduff, now 88 and a retiree living in Oak Ridge, became a member of the Clinton Home Guard formed to help quell the unrest.