OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Oak Ridge community celebrated the 68th anniversary of the historic integration of local schools by the Scarboro 85 on Wednesday.

On Sept. 6th, 1955, 85 black students from the Scarboro neighborhood started school at Oak Ridge High School and Robertsville Junior High School.

These students were the first to integrate schools in the Southeast. They integrated schools a year before the Clinton 12, two years before the Little Rock Nine and five years before Ruby Bridges.

Vanessa Spratling co-organized the anniversary event at Alvin K. Bissell Park, and said it’s important to continue celebrating the group and raising awareness about their actions.

“These people, these individuals made a huge, tremendous, sacrifice for us and without them we wouldn’t be,” she said. “It’s important that we continue to celebrate them every year so we never forget.”

Many of the Scarboro 85 have passed away. Some members, like Larry Gipson, were at the celebration Wednesday. They, and the Oak Ridge community, are hoping to cement the group’s place in history with a monument in their honor.

“Most of my classmates are in their upper seventies and eighties and we aren’t going to be around much longer. So, it’d be nice at least to have some history for the young students that participated in the program today and some of their kids later on,” Gipson said. “It’ll be a living legacy for what we did.”

One of those young students was 10-year-old Cali Foster. She is the great granddaughter of another Scarboro 85 member, Ernestine Avery Johnson. She’s been participating in the Scarboro Youth 2023 Program, in which children who are descendants of Scarboro 85 members have raised more than $1,500 for the monument.

“I really wanted to learn more about my nana’s history to be a part of it and help, it was a really big deal for me,” Foster said.

She said she’s learned a lot from her great grandmother.

“I’m really proud of her and I realize what she has done, how it affects me now. I can do stuff that she wasn’t able to do back then,” she said.

Johnson said the monument will serve as an important reminder for people in Oak Ridge, the state of Tennessee, and the United States.

“It’s a reminder of what we went through in 1955. It’s a reminder things have changed from that time to now,” she said.

The Scarboro 85 Monument Committee is raising $2.9 million to fund the monument. They are accepting donations on their website.