Breaking News
More () »

Remembering the Clinton 12 six decades later

Both Jo Ann Boyce and Gail Upton still recall what it felt like to walk into Clinton High School in 1956.

CLINTON, Tenn. — Gail Upton said decades after graduating from Clinton High School, she can still remember some of the worst and best moments. 

"They used to bump into us in the halls," she said. "And I would go home with bloody socks because they would step on the back of my heels."

In 1956, Upton, her best friend Jo Ann Boyce and 10 others would go down in history as one of the first groups of students to integrate an all-white school in the South. 

In fact, the Little Rock Nine wouldn't enter Little Rock Central High School for the first time until a year later.

Feb. 21, 2018: The Clinton 12: A journey toward integration

"This was history, we made history," Boyce said "I remember the first day there were boys with signs and some of them said a lot of rough things."

Boyce and her family would eventually pack up and move to Los Angeles before she could graduate. 

Before she left, she went on camera with CBS's Edward R. Murrow.

"They would push us and shove us and they didn't really want us there at all," she said of back then. "But I had two As and a B. The only bad grade I had was a C and that's not bad, but I wish it was an A or a B."

Upton remained at Clinton High School and can recall what graduation felt like too.

"I want to get something across. Bobby Cain and I stayed all the way through," she said. "But I put my cap and gown on at home because they jumped Bobby the year before me so when I took my cap and gown off, I never stepped foot in that school again."

The significance of what Boyce and Upton were a part of isn't lost on them. 

To this day, they continue to tell the story of what happened to them and how it changed the world around them.

"I honestly feel like if it hadn't worked with us, integration would have been set back years," Upton said. "I'm glad children are interested in knowing because it's their job now."

Passing the legacy on to children is something Boyce believes in firmly as well.

"I'm passing the baton to children because I truly believe it will be them who will make the work a better, more inclusive place," she said. 

Making the world a better place is something students at Clinton High School are dedicated to doing.

For some students, the Clinton 12's legacy hits close to home.  

DeAndre Soles is a student at Clinton High School and the grandson of Maurice Soles, another member of the Clinton 12.

"I just wanna thank him," Soles said. "You should never forget the 12 people who fought everyday so that thousands of students could come here."

Soles walks the halls with Jason Gallaher. His great-uncle, Ronald Hayden, was also a part of the Clinton 12. 

"Because of him I can be free, I can be myself," he said. 

Clinton High School principal Caleb Tipton said the story of how Clinton contributed to integration is one every student who steps foot in his school will leave knowing. 

"It's important that they know, in a time when the world was segregated, we were breaking barriers," he said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out