Former Knoxville City Schools official pens book about school in

Former Knoxville City Schools official pens book about school integration

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Dr. Bedelle is proud of his book and those who took part in bringing diversity to Knoxville Schools. Dr. Bedelle is proud of his book and those who took part in bringing diversity to Knoxville Schools.
A protest in Knoxville during the 1960s. A protest in Knoxville during the 1960s.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It's been 58 years since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the decision that did away with the notion that schools could be separate but equal when it came to race.

In Knoxville, a lesser known case broke the school system's color barrier. Lesser known, but no less important.

And now there's a book written by a man who was in the middle of it all.

The book is entitled "With All Deliberate Speed." It is the story of the federal lawsuit that led to the desegregation of Knoxville schools.

If you told young children in the Knox County School system today that there was a time when white kids went to one school and black kids went to another, they probably wouldn't believe you.

But in those days in Knoxville, as it was across the South, segregation was a fact of life.

"Why couldn't these people just go to some other school. They have a colored school in Knoxville," a Clinton farmer told a CBS reporter back in 1955, when schools there underwent integration.

That attitude was the dominant attitude among many whites - separate but equal was fine. But it wasn't fine and in 1959 the Josephine Goss case made that clear.

She was one of 17 children who attended Knoxville City Schools and who challenged the notion that blacks and whites shouldn't go to school together.

And in the middle of it all was a young Fred Bedelle. He represented the City School Board in Federal Court because he says no one else wanted it.

"I had just started to work for the city and was the low man on the totem pole," recalled Dr. Bedelle. "My job was to present at a hearing the board's position and the rationale for it."

Bedelle's book is the product of two years of work, dozens of interviews and the reviewing of more than 10,000 pages of court documents.

And he pulls no punches. He says, for example, the board's attitude toward integration was to drag its feet.

"In my opinion it was going to be like prohibition," he said. "We'll sit around here and wait and it'll go away."

It didn't go away, but people were concerned about moving too fast. In 1955, the city of Clinton was ordered by Federal Judge Robert Taylor to integrate at once and that led to violence.

"In Knoxville, we witnessed what happened in Clinton and no one wanted that," he said.

So instead, with guidance from Judge Taylor, Knoxville began in 1960 integrating one grade at a time. By 1964, that order was scrapped and full integration began. That was also the year that the Civil Rights Act was passed.

"Between 1954 and 1964, the schools had the responsibility of putting kids together in the schools," he said. "But when they left school, the blacks and whites couldn't stop at the same place and have a soda because drug stores wouldn't serve the black kids until 1964 and the Civil Rights Act."

As for Goss, she later taught in the Knoxville school system. Bedelle hired her. And today she lives in Michigan.

Bedelle is proud of his book and those who took part in bringing diversity to Knoxville Schools, an attitude that is the best of the Spirit of East Tennessee.

Specifically Dr. Bedelle says attorneys Frank and Sam Fowler, Avon Williams and Carl Cowan did yeoman's work in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the challenges facing Knoxville's schools and the issue of desegregation.

More information on "With All Deliberate Speed" is available on the book's website.


If you know someone who you believe is an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee, e-mail me at gpatterson@wate.com.

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