Oak Ridge 85 honored ahead of 65th anniversary of integrating Oak Ridge schools

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — It was a special Friday night for the Oak Ridge High school football team, and not just because this was their first home game of the season.

During halftime, Principal Martin McDonald took the time to honor those who helped make Oak Ridge schools what they are today.

65 years ago, 85 students took a risk, integrating Oak Ridge High School and Robertsville Junior high. They were the first integrated schools in the southeast. With the 65th anniversary coming up this Sunday, the school wanted to make sure those 85 students were recognized and celebrated.

Families of the Oak Ridge 85 that are still local were invited to the game to be presented with a special plaque and video presentation from Oak Ridge students and staff.

This was a special night for many of the players and coaches who are related to the original 85. Assistant coach John Spratling is the nephew of Sarah Spratling. He says he’s happy to see the story finally being told.

“We were the first to integrate but nobody really knows it. you often hear about the little rock Arkansas and the Clinton 12 and those stories are great, but our story has been hidden.” Spratling said.

Chris Mitchell is a freshman coach and also the grandson of Eloise Mitchell. He says without her, he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in.

“Knowing that my grandmother was one of those people doing that, it’s a blessing honestly. I didn’t even know that oak ridge was segregated some not knowing that and knowing that she did that for us, I want to thank her,” Mitchell said.

Jayden Williams is on the football team and has three great aunts that were apart of the Oak Ridge 85.

“I’m just so blessed to be able to have them trailblaze the way for us to be here. If it wasn’t for their bravery back then, we wouldn’t be here today. I’m just so honored to have them in my family,” Williams said.

Elosie Mitchell was one of the only original 85 present for the ceremony. She says she’s thankful her story is finally getting some recognition.

“We’ve come a long way, we still have a way to go, just having that, said a lot,” Mitchell said.

The ceremony ended with the reading of all 85 names of the students, while the families stood in for their loved ones.

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