CLINTON, Tenn. (WATE) – An East Tennessee community paused on Monday to honor an historic day in the south more than 60 years ago. A group of trailblazers made the same walk to school they made in 1956.

The Clinton 12 were a dozen high school students who braved threats of violence to attend Clinton High School, the first state-supported school to integrate in Tennessee.

On the 63rd anniversary Monday, the following members of Clinton 12 made the commemorative walk:

  • Bobby Cain
  • Jo Ann Allen Boyce
  • Minnie Ann Dickey Jones
  • Gail Epps Upton
  • Regina Turner Smith
  • Anna Theresser Caswell
  • Yvonne Thacker, representing her husband Robert Thacker

There were cheers, signs and songs from the school marching band while members of the Clinton 12 walked from Green McAdoo Cultural Center to what is today Clinton Middle School.

“It was altogether different from what we saw in 1956,” said Gail Epps Upton, a member of the Clinton 12.

The difference being, those standing along the sidewalk honoring the Clinton 12 instead of what they had faced 63 years ago. Clinton 12 members and former students say seeing this brought back strong memories. Some of those memories are not positive.

Linda Brock, a life-long Clinton resident, says she had just graduated from high school and that the commemorative walk comes with a mix of emotions.

“I’m so happy that things are like they are now, but it makes me sad that these 12 had to go through what they went through,” Brock said.

The roughly quarter-mile walk on Monday honored the Clinton 12’s bravery the day the school was integrated.

“It was sort of a surprise and a fear too in a way,” Upton recalled of their walk to school.

“It was a hectic day. Some people say it wasn’t, but I remember seeing a lot of people out there and walking down that hill. And the problem with that, here I am coming to this new school, I’m leaving my old school, Austin High, where I’m going to miss my prom. I’m going to miss my friends. I don’t have any friends other than the ones coming off the hill with me. So, it was indeed a traumatic experience to witness all those people standing out there. But, Mr. Britton was the principal of the school and he met us with a woman with an enthusiastic smile and it kind of lightened the load for us,” said Bobby Cain, a member of the Clinton 12.

On Monday, there was a large crowd inside CMS’ gymnasium where people cheered and listened intently as members of the Clinton 12 shared their journey, some saying they didn’t realize the magnitude of what they were doing that day in 1956.

“Something I didn’t get to do at Clinton High School, I wanted to, I wanted to make friends and I didn’t get the chance. So, now I’m encouraging these kids to have a change of heart and to get to know each other and they’ll find out life is a lot better,” said Jo Ann Allen Boyce, a member of the Clinton 12.

These trailblazing former students hoping their bravery is something we continue taking to heart.

“I want people to be inspired, to be courageous, to rise up, to do good, and to make this country a better place,” added Boyce.

Historians say before Clinton High School was integrated, Black students had to ride 16 miles to a segregated school in Knoxville.

Four members of the Clinton 12 have passed away.