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Clinton 12 and Oak Ridge 85 recognized for their roles in history by U.S. Congress

Jo Ann Allen Boyce, a member of the Clinton 12, wants people to know their stories.

CLINTON, Tenn. — Written in the Congressional Record, part of the "proceedings and debates of the 117th Congress," there is now a tribute to the Oak Ridge 85 and the Clinton 12. They are East Tennessee students who were among the first to desegregate public schools in the Southeast. 

Jo Ann Allen Boyce started at Austin High School in Knoxville. She rode a bus from Clinton to Knoxville every day. 

In 1956, a federal judge ruled Anderson County Schools would have to integrate. Desegregation started with 12 students who went to Clinton High School. 

"They didn't set out to make a huge bunch of changes," said Adam Velk, the Executive Director of the Green McAdoo Cultural Center. "They were simply here in town ... Here's this opportunity for their daughter to go to school right here."

"I was hopeful that I would be able to make friends and to be able to participate in school activities," said Boyce, one of the Clinton 12. "It didn't turn out that way."

She endured hate. People screamed slurs, threw food, rocks and sticks at her. 

In a scrapbook provided to the McAdoo center, Boyce has a note left in her school locker. The note said "go home n-----, we hate you."

Credit: McAdoo Center

Eventually, Boyce's family moved from Clinton to Los Angeles. She said she would've liked to finish school in Clinton, but her family thought the hate was too distracting, and she missed too much school. 

Despite all she's been through, Boyce said she refuses to hate. 

"I call it a disease of the heart," Boyce said. "If we could just get rid of that, we would be far, far, far better off." 

Boyce said some of the people who were in her classes at Clinton High School reached out to her, and now she is friends with them. 

"We can at some point become friends and enjoy life," Boyce said. "We need to act like we're the human race, we need to start treating one another much nicer ... That would make the world a better place."

Jo Ann Allen Boyce wrote about her experience in her book The Promise of Change, one girl's story in the fight for school equality. 

All proceeds from the book go towards the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton, Tennessee.