Integration Begins in Clinton: A Major Civil Rights Moment in Tennessee


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Integration Begins in Clinton: A Major Civil Rights Moment in Tennessee

A land of contradictions from the start, the United States was founded by slave owners who spoke passionately and eloquently about liberty, liberty and justice for all. At first “everything” was limited to men of European descent who were wealthy enough to own land. The protections of the Constitution did not apply to most people living in America for most of American history, at least not in all.

Women – about 50% of the population – were not included in the concept of “everything” in the country, as were millions of slaves – and for a long time, their offspring. Native Americans, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the United States, were generally excluded from America’s promise, as were many immigrants, ethnic groups, and religious minorities.

Despite all the work that remains to be done, all these groups and many others now enjoy freedoms that have had to be won – won by the courts, by the tribunal of public opinion, by mass demonstrations, by the legislation, through boycotts and in many cases, through martyrdom.

Fighting to broaden the definition of “all” requires powerless people to challenge power structures that profit from keeping some people locked in their status as second-class citizens. They often do so at the risk of their job, their reputation, their home and, in many cases, their lives. Even so, courageous advocates and activists have fought the good fight in all American states. Each state has a unique story to tell about the epic civil rights struggles that have taken place there, as well as those that continue to be fought. The following is a small fragment of their collective efforts.

Using various sources, Stacker identified a defining moment for civil rights in the 50 states. They stand out for different reasons and have led to changes that have spurred different groups, but they all prove how much can be accomplished and how much remains to be accomplished.

Read on to learn about your state’s contribution to civil rights.

Tennessee: integration begins in Clinton

In 1956, two years after Brown v. Board, a federal judge ordered the integration of Clinton High School in Anderson County. A large influx of Klan members and other white supremacist protesters engulfed the city and riots ensued. The governor called in the National Guard, and the Clintons 12 eventually entered the Southern United States’ first public high school.

Click on here to see an event from each state or keep reading for other events near Tennessee.

Alabama: Rosa Parks takes a stand

Selma’s march to Montgomery took place in Alabama, as did the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church and some of the most important Freedom Rides. One moment, however, stands out as dramatic and consequent, even by Alabama standards during the Civil Rights era. On December 1, 1955, the arrest of Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress, for refusing to give up his place on a city bus led to the Montgomery bus boycott, the movement’s first major victory.

Arkansas: Little Rock 9 goes to school

In 1957, three years after the Supreme Court overturned school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, nine African-American students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It took several tries – they were physically blocked from the first attempts by a combination of enraged white crowds and armed National Guard troops. Finally, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard, ordering them to escort students to and from the building, and on September 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nines began taking classes at Central High.

About Michael G. Walter

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