Over the last four days, the Standards Recommendation Committee for Social Studies has been combing through the standards for the social studies academic standards for the state of Tennessee, reviewing and preparing recommendations for the State Board of Education‘s approval.
According to the Tennessee Board of Education, the process established the desired learning outcomes for Tennessee students.
Ray Smith, the Oak Ridge City Historian, says one of those recommendations is adding the Scarboro 85 to the state’s social studies academic standards.
“I’m thinking that that’s at least a few months down the road before you can actually say it’s official, but I am pleased to say that the people working on the committee with me were we were all unanimous in recognizing that Scarboro 85, which identifies the desegregation of the Oak Ridge High School, and Robertsville Junior High in September of 1955. The first such desegregation in the southeast.” Smith said.
Smith said while the addition of the Scarboro 85 is not official yet, he thinks it is “well on its way” and is a “major step in the right direction.”
The Scarboro 85, sometimes called the Oak Ridge 85, refers to the integration of 85 Black students into Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School on September 6, 1955. The schools were ordered to desegregate in January of that year by the Atomic Energy Commission, which is now the Department of Energy. According to Smith, it was the first such desegregation in the Southeast.
On a national level, many may be more familiar with the Clinton 12 or the Little Rock 9, and Smith explained that the reason for that may be tied to how quiet the integration was or that it simply wasn’t promoted well.
“We in Oak Ridge, in my opinion, Ray’s opinion, don’t do a really good job of promoting ourselves. There are many things that have happened in Oak Ridge that affect the world and the Scarboro 85 event that took place in 1955, while it did get national recognition and at the time it was recognized as being significant, it was far overshadowed by the Clinton 12, where had which brought in in the next year, brought in a significant amount of turmoil there, which didn’t really happen in Oak Ridge,” Smith said. “And then, of course, in 1957, Little Rock happened, and that just tended to overshadow all of the other desegregation initiatives, in my opinion, and then in Oak Ridge to our discredit, we failed to promote and even comprehend the importance of 85 Black students going to an all-white school”
Although there was less turmoil with the integration of the Scarboro 85, Smith said there was still resistance. Specifically, City Council Chairman Waldo Cohn resigned after a group of white individuals who did not want the schools to desegregate attempted to have him recalled.
Additionally, Smith pointed out that the Scarboro 85 came from a “very good” school that had lower grades through high school and where they had more attention from teachers, and integrated into a school where they had access to better books and possibly better instructions while they became the minority and “lost their personal identity.”
“They were in a very minority situation and you know, so I have to remember it hadn’t been long since Emmett Till had gotten killed down in Mississippi, so. It was not a good atmosphere at all and there was some uncomfortableness associated with just being. In among the prominently white population and having to make that change. But they did it. They did it well,” Smith said. “You have to remember the time. Back in the 1950s, things were changing and the Scarboro 85 led the way in a very, very significant manner.”
While the next most pressing success would be including the Scarboro 85 in the education academic standards, Smith says it is a major step toward hopefully seeing the Scarboro 85 included in the Civil Rights Trail and recognized in museums and school systems across the country.
The new recommended standards will go to the board of education for final reading in February 2024.