Out of the Silence: Remembering the Desegregation of Clinton, Tennessee, High School Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Martin, Rachel
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • In May 1957, Bobby Cain--a black student--graduated from the newly-integrated Clinton, Tennessee, High School. During that school year, conflict had exploded along the social divisions running through the town, exposing the class resentments that had long fractured the community. The violence culminated in 1958 when unknown bombers destroyed the school by dynamite. Despite the violence, Clinton High never resegregated or closed, making it the first Southern school to successfully desegregate under a court order. Though it served as a blueprint for later desegregation attempts, within a few years, Clinton's story faded from public memory, replaced by civil rights battles occurring in larger cities across America. But the people of Clinton never forgot their groundbreaking role. In 2005 I launched an oral history project in Clinton, and I discovered that individuals in the town remember different, and often contradictory, versions of the events. The version commemorated in the town's museum and other official venues, however, celebrates the white businessmen who acquiesced to the court order. This simplification of civil rights stories happens frequently, but glossing over the anger and the pain running through the past allows Americans to ignore the ways in which our society is constructed on inequality. It also hinders our ability to correctly diagnose the reasons that we as a society continue to struggle with inequality and segregation. Finally, it silences women's voices by focusing on what happened during street riots rather than asking how choices made within the school's classrooms, churches and homes affected the outcome of events. "Out of the Silence: Commemorating the Desegregation of Clinton, Tennessee High School" reconstructs the narrative of Clinton High School's desegregation to include the voices of the African American community, the white segregationist protestors and the teachers and students in the school as well as the white town leaders. Using that story, I follow the process of memory making in the town, asking why some memories are commemorated publicly while others are forgotten so as to understand how people use memory to vie for and consolidate power.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Feimster, Crystal
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
  • Edwards, Laura
  • Leloudis, James
  • Ferris, William
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • This item is restricted from public view for 2 years after publication.

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