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Knoxville civil rights trailblazer uses story to inspire students

Integrating West High School wasn't pleasant for Dr. William Weaver in 1964, but he didn't let the adversity stop him from being successful.

Knoxville — More than 50 years ago, Dr. William Weaver was one of 14 black students integrating the all-white West High School.

His first day was far from pleasant--- even the principle dished out racist remarks.

Now, the accomplished doctor uses his hard times for good.

He'll speak to West students Tuesday, and his message will be one of encouragement.

The West High School signs welcomed him Monday, but Weaver's invitation wasn't always so friendly.

"My first thought was actually to say no way (to the invitation) because my experience had been so unpleasant," Weaver said.

Weaver was one of nearly 20 students to integrate at West in 1964, and his experience on his first day changed his life forever.

"(The principal) calls the role and he said, Bill Weaver," Weaver said.

Weaver had always gone by William or Lynn, never Bill, so he corrected the principal.

"And he got very angry, and he said, oh you're a smart one," Weaver said. "And he said I was suspended. I had been in school for about 30 minutes."

The football player's teachers were unsupportive, failing him in most subjects.

Then, his former middle school teacher, Mr. Edward Hill, took extra time to tutor him.

Hill even applied for scholarships for him to Howard University without Weaver ever knowing.

"If it weren't for him, I'd have never gone to college," Weaver said.

That's what Weaver hopes his message to students tomorrow at West will do-- -encourage.

"If you see someone being bullied, harassed, mistreated because of race, religion or sexual orientation, you gotta speak up," Weaver said.

He hasn't been to West for nearly 50 years.

"An amazing person contacted me, and that was the principal," Weaver said.

Ashley Jessie told Weaver she wanted her students to hear his story.

"I felt like the West High that he was talking about was not the West High of today," Jessie said. "I know that we're not perfect and I know that there are things that we need to work on, and I'm excited to hear his message tomorrow to our kids."

She changed his mind, and she hopes through Weaver's message, her students will change for the better.

Weaver will speak to the students in an assembly on Tuesday, and parents are welcome to visit with him at a reception from 4:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m. at the school.

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