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Share this page 2.1 First Desegregated Public High School in the South

WATCH NOW: The history of the first desegregated public high school in the south

If you were a black 8th grade student graduating from Clinton, Tennessee's Green McAdoo Grade School into high school before 1956, you were bused to Fulton High School, 29 miles away instead of attending the white high school, which was 1,500 feet away. In August 1950, four black students who were eligible to attend Clinton High School attempted to enroll but were rejected by school officials. In December 1950, their parents filed a lawsuit eventually known as McSwain et al. v. County Board of Education of Anderson County, Tennessee. In April 1952, Judge Robert L. Taylor of the U.S. District Court of Knoxville, denied the lawsuit and upheld the position of the county school board. He was not convinced that the African American families were terribly inconvenienced attending a separate school in the adjacent County of Knox.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation was inherently unequal and struck down the separate but equal doctrine. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, reversed Taylor’s 1952 ruling and returned McSwain et al. v. County Board of Education to federal district court for a new decision.

Some quick maneuvering by local officials to upgrade the African American school facilities delayed desegregation for the 1955-56 school year but in January 1956, Federal Judge Taylor ordered the school board to end segregation by the fall term of 1956.

On August 20, 1956, twelve African American strudents registered to attend the newly desegregated Clinton High School without incident.  Until, word got out and white pro-segregationists came to Clinton, Tennessee; holding rallies, picketing, and burning crosses. Two days before classes began, John Kasper, executive secretary of the Seaboard White Citizens Council, arrived in Clinton rallying support and organizing picketers. 

On Monday, August 26, 1956, the twelve African American students met at Green McAdoo School and walked together to Clinton High School escorted by many local supporters to shield them from protesters. 

There is much, much more to this story including how the militia were sent in to help the “Home Guard" to how John Kasper ultimately ended up in jail to the bombing of Clinton High School.  There is also the story of Bobby Cain, the first African American graduate of a public integrated high school not only in Tennessee, but in the South. These stories will be posted in the coming weeks. 


A point of interest:  During the 1947/1948 school year, African American citizens of Anderson County began demanding equal school facilities for their two-room grade school building.  It didn’t have a cafeteria or a gym.  It didn’t even have indoor restrooms.  The school system agreed to the improvements and decided to change the name from Clinton Colored School to Green McAdoo School after Green L. McAdoo, an army veteran who had been one of the famed “Buffalo Soldiers” in the late-nineteenth-century West. In 1896, when he was 40 years old, Green L. McAdoo retired from the army and returned home to Clinton, Tennessee where he was employed as a custodian of the Anderson County Courthouse for twenty-five years.  Green McAdoo School continued to operate as a segregated primary grammar school until 1965.