OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A luncheon geared toward a fundraising campaign to build a monument honoring 85 Black students who helped to desegregate public schools in the Southeast is soon happening in the very town those students “quietly entered All-White classes” in September 1955.

The students are known as the Scarboro 85 (also called the “Oak Ridge 85”) and their actions occurred a year before the Clinton 12 students attended classes to further integrate public schools in the South.

This month, the Scarboro 85 Monument Celebration Committee will hold a luncheon to start its fundraising campaign for “a beautiful new civil rights monument, honoring the courageous Scarboro 85 students,” a news release announcing the fundraising campaign states.

The luncheon will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Doubletree Hotel, which is located at 215 South Illinois Ave. in Oak Ridge. Tickets for the luncheon are available at this link.

“The great courage of the Scarboro 85 led the way in Southeastern public education,” Coach John Spratling, chair of the monument committee, said. “These young people were the first to successfully challenge Jim Crow. This beautiful monument will help us remember these inspiring American heroes.”

The luncheon will feature remarks from Pastor Emeritus Reverend Doctor Harold Middlebrook, a friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King and acclaimed civil rights leader.

“It’s a rare opportunity to hear from someone with the great national stature as Dr. Middlebrook,” Spratling said. “We are so pleased he will be here.”

The luncheon will also feature an introduction to the proposed monument by the architect, Ziad Demian, whose proposal features large columns, “Pillars-Of-Courage,” symbolizing the bravery and leadership of the 85 students. The columns surround a central “Plaza-Of-Healing” area, which tells the Scarboro 85 story.

“We hope this monument will help others follow in the footsteps of these great ‘Pillars-Of-Courage,’” Spratling said. “The Scarboro 85 changed the course of our nation.”

The Scarboro 85 monument’s slated location is in center-city Oak Ridge and is expected to cost millions of dollars, according to the Scarboro 85 Monument Celebration Committee.

On Sept. 6, 1955, approximately 85 Black students entered a previously segregated Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School.

“Eighty-five brave, young Black students from the Scarboro neighborhood quietly entered All-White classes in the fully segregated Oak Ridge High School and Robertsville Junior High School,” the news release states. “This was the first desegregation of a public school system in the Southeastern United States. As such, it was a breakthrough victory (in the Southeast) for the Brown-Versus-Board-Of-Education Supreme Court decision.”

In August 2021, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally honored the students in a ceremony at the Scarboro Community Center in Oak Ridge. At the time, Lee said he was working with the Tennessee state school board to get the history of the Scarboro (Oak Ridge) 85 and Clinton 12 into school curriculums across the state.

To make a general donation to the monument, organizers say to visit Scarboro85.com.