Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Honoring Governor Clement and the Clinton 12

Posted on August 24, 2008

This past Wednesday, I 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 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. The Clinton 12 bravely stood up and became the first students to enter a desegregated public high school in the South. We need to honor their important place in our nation’s history and recognize the leadership and courage it took for Governor Clement to desegregate Clinton High without the need for federal armed forces. Back in 1956 on August 27th, 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. Instead of blocking the students from entering, Governor Clement did what he was supposed to do and sent them to school. I was fortunate enough to be joined by members of the Clement family at Wednesday’s ceremony. I was joined by former Tennessee State Senator Anna Belle Clement O’Brien and former U.S. Representative Bob Clement, along with Clinton Mayor Wimp Shoopman. 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. That’s why I have 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. 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. Our country has come a long way since 1956 but there is still work to do. Fortunately, the courage Frank Clement and our state demonstrated in Clinton provides great inspiration to continue moving forward.