In the middle of an ordinary Open House at Clinton Middle School, an extraordinary moment of history was observed. Fifty-nine years ago on this day, twelve young men and women took a walk down Foley Hill, making an historic entrance into what was then Clinton High School. The “Clinton 12” were the first African-American students to attend an all-white public school in the South. On this night in 2015, parents and students attending the Open House take a break to come outside for the dedication of a new historical marker commemorating this building’s role in Civil Rights History.
Language Arts teacher, Kevin Powers addressed the crowd gathered for the dedication. Powers grew up in Clinton and talked about his time attending school in the building that once served as the city’s High School. Powers said something was missing from his education. He had heard about the bombing of the building where he was going to school. He heard about the out of town agitators who tried to stir up trouble and of course the Clinton 12, but the importance of the events that happened within the walls of this building was never stressed.
Kevin’s wife, Amanda is also a teacher at Clinton Middle School. Together she and her husband worked with honors students to petition the state to put up a historical marker right outside the school. Those students received a round of applause during the ceremony. County Mayor Terry Frank, Clinton Mayor Scott Burton, State Representative John Ragan and many other officials were on hand along with current and former students of the school and dozens of people wanting to witness this moment.
The white sheet covering the historical moment was pulled down by the students. Just before the unveiling Mr. Powers told the crowd to expect to see at least one wrong date on the marker and one typographical error. He said when he and the students sent in the paperwork there were no errors, but the state would be correcting them. Through the work of the students and Mr. & Mrs. Powers, people passing the marker will long remember what happened here.
For a closer look at the historic events, a new “wall of history” is located just inside the school’s gymnasium and of course there is the Green McAdoo Cultural Center on top of Foley Hill. Bronzed statues of the Clinton 12 stand outside the building and inside is a museum telling the incredible events in this small East Tennessee town, a story Kevin Powers wants the world to know.