U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today honored the courage of Governor Frank G. Clement for his role in the desegregation of Clinton High School during a ceremony at the Green McAdoo site here in Clinton.
“In 1956, one year before Central High School in Little Rock was integrated, Governor Clement and the citizens of Clinton did what they were supposed to do by enforcing the law and successfully integrating Clinton High School without federal intervention,” Alexander said. “The Clinton 12 bravely stood up and became the first students to enter a desegregated public high school in the South, and we need to honor their important place in our nation’s history. We also need to recognize the leadership and courage it took for Governor Clement to desegregate Clinton High without the need for federal armed forces. I think it is very important to honor the story of the Clinton 12 and what the Tennessee community and especially Governor Clement did a year before Little Rock Central by making this site a unit in the National Park System.”
Last October, Alexander introduced the Green McAdoo National Historic Site Study Act (S. 2207) that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to study the feasibility of designating the Green McAdoo School as a unit of the National Park System. Upon receiving the designation, the site would become part of the 391-unit National Park System and receive federal funding for operational costs. It also would earn national recognition as part of the Park System’s mission to preserve and protect the natural and cultural history of America.
Alexander was joined at Wednesday’s ceremony by former Tennessee State Senator Anna Belle Clement O’Brien, former U.S. Representative Bob Clement and Clinton Mayor Wimp Shoopman.
“I appreciate Mayor Shoopman, Anderson County, Senator Alexander and Governor Bredesen for doing this,” Anna Belle Clement O’Brien said. “This means a lot to the Clement family. My brother said when he took the oath of office as governor of Tennessee to uphold the law of the land he took that oath seriously. And when it came time to integrate Clinton High School, he said he was proud to uphold the law of the land because it was the right thing to do. We were taught to treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated, and he lived that.”
“As a child I had no idea how courageous my father’s decision was,” Bob Clement said. “Our family was under numerous death threats. We did not have a fence at the governor’s residence but we had a Trooper at every tree protecting the governor and his family. While other southern governors were standing at the schoolhouse door barring black children from going to school with white children, Gov. Frank G. Clement, progressive governor from Tennessee was upholding the law and integrating the schools in Tennessee. I’ll never forget my father saying, “Whether you support segregation or integration, we in Tennessee are going to uphold the law of the land and as long as I’m governor no federal marshals or federal troops will march in Tennessee. We will solve our problems by Tennesseans.”
"The City of Clinton is honored to join with Senator Alexander in paying tribute to the late Governor Frank Clement and welcome his family to our City. Because of Governor Clement's insight and leadership, the court order to desegregate Clinton High School that was enforced in the Fall of 1956 has been successful since day one and Clinton returned to the peaceful city that it was then and continues to be today,” said Mayor Wimp Shoopman of Clinton. “We look forward to ‘showing off’ the Green McAdoo Cultural Center and Museum to Governor Clement's family so they can see that his positive influence and courageous actions during that turbulent time in our nation's history is remembered and appreciated in our community and that it is being shared with the thousands of visitors that visit us each year."
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center, located on the site of the Green McAdoo School in Clinton, Tennessee, highlights the history of the formerly segregated all-black Green McAdoo School and all-white Clinton High School. Both played a vital role in the school desegregation crisis that preceded and followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
On Aug. 27, 1956, 12 students from the Green McAdoo School, later dubbed the “Clinton 12,” met at the school before walking together to the all-white Clinton High School to become the first African-American students to integrate a southern, state-operated school. Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was desegregated more than a year later in September 1957 after President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army and federalized the Arkansas National Guard. President Eisenhower acted after Governor Orval Faubus mobilized the Arkansas National Guard to block 9 African-American students – the “Little Rock 9” – from entering Central High.
During the 50th anniversary of their walk in 2006, Senator Alexander and then-Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) secured $750,000 for the city of Clinton to jump-start renovations to transform the school into a cultural museum as part of the Fiscal Year 2006 Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, and Housing & Urban Development appropriations bill.
Senators Alexander, Corker and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) introduced the Green McAdoo National Historic Site Study Act in October. Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.-03) and John Lewis (D-Ga.).