Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kingsport's DEFY Kids Visit the Clinton 12 Experience

"It's scary."

"I don't see why they bombed the school."

"It was a dumb thing to do.. they didn't hurt anybody."

Riverview and South Central Kingsport children taking part in the DEFY (Drug Enforcement for Youth) program, are appalled by the treatment of children in 1950's Clinton, Tennessee. In June, they took a field trip to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton, home of the museum that honors the determination and spirit of 12 students who themselves "defied" the odds of attending Clinton's all-white school in 1957.

To see pictures of the children's experience, please click DEFY Kids Visit the Clinton 12 Experience.

"Our kids don't understand yet the price that has been paid, so they can be educated in the best schools possible," says Mary Alexander with Kingsport's Weed & Seed program, co-sponsor of the DEFY program. "This trip is important, because the kids are having a natural reaction to the things they see in the exhibits. They cannot imagine that in a city as small as Clinton, Tennessee, there were EIGHT bombings to prevent integration. They tend to take their education and freedom of movement and justice for granted, because they don't know anything else. This exhibit shows them the price that was paid, for something they take for granted."

Parents of black students attending the Green McAdoo School had asked for years that their kids be allowed to attend the closer Clinton High School, instead of being bussed all the way to Austin High School in Knoxville, 35 miles away. After BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, integration in Clinton and Anderson County seemed a certainty, until the community was roused into a rage by segregationists, who came to town and stirred the locals into a racial frenzy. The Clinton High School was bombed, not so much in an effort to keep blacks out, as to make a racial statement. Eventually, 12 brave African-Americans journeyed down the hill from the Green McAdoo School, and were able to attend the Clinton High School, but not without a cultural price.

"It's not surprising the DEFY students can't imagine that people would blow up a high school to keep black people from coming inside it," says Mrs. Alexander. "When I told them the word 'bombings,' they said, 'what do you mean, bombings?' I said 'BOMBINGS, blow things up.' They said 'what?' That is just so removed from them. History must be taught, so they can understand the price paid..that's why Jews teach the Holocaust, Native Americans teach the Wild West. African-Americans must teach the Civil Rights Movement, so that our children can look at it and believe 'something about that just wasn't right.'

That sentiment is echoed by Marilyn Hayden, the director of the Green McAdoo Cultural Center. 51 years ago, her brother Ronald was one of the Clinton 12.

"Less than 10 years after my brother Ronald took those historic steps along with his 11 classmates, he passed away," says Ms. Hayden. "In 1966, I was only a youngster and he was gone. I wasn't able to ask him what he went through..I never knew the enormity of that time and what they accomplished until I got older. He wasn't here for me to ask him, so I've had to rely on the history books and the teachings of the elders to understand how brave they all were."

Ms. Hayden went on.. "we have kids up here all the time at the museum just these from Kingsport, wanting to talk about integration, segregation, racism. They have no idea what it is, but they want to learn about it."

"When the kids hear about the (Ku Klux) Klan or something about a black person having been beaten to death generations ago just because they were black," says Mrs. Alexander, "we want them to think to themselves 'well why would people do that?' Right now, they may not know where that comes from. If they don't know about it, history has failed them."

"These kids can't imagine that in a town as small as Clinton, Tennessee, 8 bombings happened to keep black students from attending the white schools," Mrs. Alexander says.

"If these kids get nothing else from this visit," she says, "they will learn that 'I myself decide what is right..I will set my own standards, regardless of what is happening around me.

"If we don't teach them anything else, if they can learn that... they'll be all right."