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Oak Ridge 85: Woman shares story of integrating Robertsville Junior High

Dorothy Lewis, a young member of the 85 who attended both Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School, shares her story in her own words.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The Oak Ridge 85 were the first Black students to integrate a public school system in the Southeast when they entered Oak Ridge High School and Robertsville Junior High in September 1955.

These students helped changed the course of history in Tennessee, but for more than six decades, their stories were a secret, but not anymore. 

The community has rallied around the few remaining members of the 85 to celebrate their history-making steps.

Some of the Oak Ridge 85 have shared their stories to preserve the history.

RELATED: The Secret in Scarboro: The Oak Ridge 85

Dorothy Lewis, a young member of the 85, attended both Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School.

She was about 12 years old when she first entered Robertsville Junior High.

"I had mixed feelings. I was excited to some point, and of course, I was nervous about it, not knowing what to expect," Lewis said. "It wasn't easy. It was very hard. It was stressful. I used to not want to go to school. Every day, I just didn't want to go."

She said the relationships among the students were not good and her reception was anything but friendly.

"They let you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are not welcome at their school. They weren't friendly at all," she said. "There was a lot of name-calling, jeering, just the body language, the way they would get out. They didn't want to get close to you at all."

Lewis said tensions smoothed out over time. She was able to meet some nice friends and said the teachers were great.

"For the most part, I enjoyed going to Robertsville and the high school. It turned out to be a very nice place to be," she said.

With the 85's stories no longer confined to the Secret City, Lewis hopes people understand what she and her fellow students were able to accomplish for future generations.

"My grandchildren, they don't have to deal with that sort of thing like I did myself," she said. "They go to school. I don't think they have the fear or not feel that they're wanted or being accepted."