Oak Ridge 85 publicly recognized on 65th anniversary of desegregation of Oak Ridge schools

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — September 6 marks the 65th anniversary of the desegregation of Oak Ridge schools. A special service was held Sunday to honor the remaining 85 students who integrated the first public schools in the south east.

A long kept secret in the secret city is now a story that will never be forgotten. The Oak Ridge 85 and their families were invited to a community worship service at the place where it all started. The outdoor service was held at the site of the Scarboro school that Black students attended before integration.

Mayor Warren Gooch, as well as other local pastors and members of the community all gathered to pay tribute to the 85. Reverend Dr. Harold Middlebrook delivered a sermon.

Each family was given a special certificate, recognizing them for their courage and bravery. Each of the 85 names were called out, allowing each family to be represented.

Many of the remaining 85 are still local, but some of them traveled just to be a part of the ceremony. Barbara Thomas was one of the 85. She says she traveled from St. Louis to be here for this moment.

“It was a blessing and an honor to be recognized and just to be here. I’m overjoyed, I just can’t even explain — you know during the ceremony I just felt like crying at times, because this is just something really really historical to me.” Thomas said.

Dorothy Lewis, another one of the 85 and Oak Ridge resident recalls what it was like integrating schools back then.

“It wasn’t easy. It was very hard to do. It took a lot of courage and patience. And what I did endure I feel now more that it was necessary for us to have to do that to make it easier for the children that have come behind us.” Lewis said.

Oak Ridge High School also recognized the 85 by unveiling a plaque that celebrates the sacrifice, courage, and leadership of those students. The 65th anniversary committee is hoping to continue commemoration events for the next year.

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