An almost forgotten story - The Clinton 12
Twelve bronzed statues on the top of a hill overlooking the small town of Clinton, TN provide a glimpse into a groundbreaking event that happened more than 60-years ago. In August of 1956, one year before events in Little Rock, AR caught the attention of the nation, the 12 people represented in these statues were the first to integrate a public high school in the South.
The courage and conviction of the Clinton 12, as they are known, had to attend high school about 30 miles away in Knoxville before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Following the court order of the time, local officials worked to integrate Clinton High School, which was just a short walk down the hill from the Green McAdoo School where most of the Clinton 12 had attended elementary school.
The integration of Clinton High School appeared to be going smoothly until a man named John Kasper came to town to stir up trouble. His racist rhetoric turned this sleepy little town into a hot bed for civil unrest that eventually led to National Guard tanks making their way across the “big green bridge” and down Main Street to help keep the peace. Eventually things settled down and the story of the Clinton 12 faded out of the spotlight and was overshadowed by other events in the Civil Rights movement. That all changed in 2006 when a documentary about the Clinton 12 debuted and the Green McAdoo Cultural Center opened its doors.
Today, as you walk into the museum inside the center, rows of desks sit in front of a screen where your journey through this small museum begins. Just take a seat and try and think about what it would have been like to be in the classroom there, knowing you would eventually have to leave your community to get your high school education.
From this classroom setting, exhibits through the doors help you learn more about the ways white supremacists like John Kasper spread their message and what a local Baptist Minister and Football Team Captain did to counteract those actions and bring civility back to Clinton.
At the back of the main room, you see a picture stretched out across the wall that shows a picture of Clinton High School at the time when the Clinton 12 first arrived at the school. As you get closer, the picture changes to a bombed out school, a stark reminder of how the hatred in Clinton turned to violence. Luckily, the bombing happened at night and no one was hurt, but it struck at the heart of Clinton and left the town without a High School until a new one was built.
Admission to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center Museum is free. Check the center’s website for more information on hours and for more on each one of the Clinton 12. Even if the museum isn’t open, take time to check out the bronzed statues outside and enjoy the view of Clinton. Recently, the Green McAdoo Cultural Center Museum became part of the Tennessee State Museum system and is also a stop on the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
One of the Clinton 12 is Jo Ann Boyce. Her grandson, Cameron Boyce is a well known actor on the Disney Channel which made a special video a few years ago that aired during Black History Monty. It features actor Cameron Boyce telling the story of his grandmother, JoAnn Boyce, who was one of the Clinton 12.