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Oak Ridge 85, Secretary of Energy receive national award from American Nuclear Society

The recognition comes 66 years after the Oak Ridge 85 became the first Black students to integrate southeast public schools on Sept. 6, 1955.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The Oak Ridge 85 and U.S. Secretary of Energy received the Social Responsibility in the Nuclear Community Award from the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

This was the American Nuclear Society’s first time to present the award, which “recognizes an individual, group, or organization for outstanding efforts in social responsibility promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion or inclusive community-building in the nuclear community.”

The recognition comes 66 years after the Oak Ridge 85 became the first Black students to integrate southeast public schools when they entered Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School on Sept. 6, 1955.

THEIR STORY: The Secret in Scarboro: The Oak Ridge 85

"It made us think back and think about what it was like and to appreciate what we have going today for ourselves and our children and grandchildren," said Dorothy Kirk Lewis, one of the Oak Ridge 85.

Credit: Elizabeth Sims
The Oak Ridge 85 receive the Social Responsibility in the Nuclear Community Award from the American Nuclear Society.

Five of the original 85 students (Alma McKinney Stevens, Ernestine Avery, Shirley James, Leroy Justice and Dorothy Kirk Lewis) and their families were able to go to Washington, D.C. to accept the award along with the Department of Energy’s Katy Huff during the ANS Winter Meeting and Expo.

"Thank the Lord for them. Thanks for this day. And as I go back to Michigan, I will be able to tell them what a beautiful, beautiful event this was, and I can go back with my chest stuck out," Shirley James said.

Four generations of Ernestine Avery's family accompanied her to the event.

"I'm feeling really proud of my nana. She did something really great, and I think it's amazing," said Cali Foster, Avery's 8-year-old great-granddaughter.

In addition to the award, the society said it will provide $1,000 to the TN-85 Student Endowment Fund.