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The Story of Desegregation in Clinton, Tennessee
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The Role of the Churches in Clinton's Desegregration

The Story of Green McAdoo School

After the Civil War, about 600 slaves were freed in Anderson County. Early education for blacks was administered in the churches, such as Asbury United Methodist Church and the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. During the era of Reconstruction, the Freedman's Bureau built a school for African American children in the middle of the newly-established freedmen's community, on a hill overlooking the town square of Clinton. This hill north of town became identified as Freedmen's Hill (and later took on the present name of Foley Hill). Local white residents torched the black school in the spring of 1869, causing a citizens meeting where residents adopted the following resolution: Whereas on the morning of March 7, 1869, the church and school on Freedman's Hill in Clinton belonging to the colored people, was destroyed by fire under circumstances which leave but little doubt that it was the work of an incendiary . . . The people of Clinton and vicinity, without distinction of party or political antecedent, denounce the act.19

The Clinton citizens took up a collection to rebuild a church and school for the African American community. Local history says that a former slaveholder and stern Democrat, Colonel John Jarnigan, took the lead in the movement to rebuild the destroyed church and school. Less than two months later on May 1, 1869, a former slave, Andrew Freeman of Anderson County, donated one and a quarter acres of land for the building of what became known as the Whittier School for the African American community. School Superintendent, Charles D. McGuffey, nephew of the author of the famous McGuffey Readers, witnessed the implementation of the deed. This town lot became the historic location for African American schools. 20

Clinton Colored School was built as a New Deal relief project in 1935. In late July 1934, the engineering department of the Tennessee Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), the state agency that carried out the Federal Emergency Relief Administration for Tennessee, approved construction plans for the school, and assigned O.E Jett from the area TERA office as project director. With support from TERA, the City of Clinton School Department, and Anderson County School Board, a total of $8,214.49 was raised to complete the new building. TERA used a total of 66 laborers, and 117 semi-skilled workers, who were given a few days work each during this depressed time in America.

Few counties were as impacted by federal programs in the 1930s and early 1940s than Anderson County. In a 10-year period from 1933 to 1943, major federal projects such as the construction of Norris Dam and Reservoir by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the development of the secret Clinton Engineering Works (better known as Oak Ridge, the Atomic City) reshaped the county's landscape and community. During that time of change, TERA was one of several lesser federal relief programs that carried out multiple projects in Anderson County. While it funded the construction of the Clinton Colored School, another New Deal agency, the Public Works Administration funded the construction of a much larger, more modern, and better equipped Clinton Elementary and High School.

Architect Frank Barber designed the Clinton Colored School, following a plan for a two-teacher school, with a raised stage placed in one schoolroom so the building could also serve as a community auditorium. Barber was a partner of the well-known Knoxville firm of Barber and McMurry. The firm was known for its school and church designs. The firm designed, among others, Sequoyah Elementary School (1929) and the Maryville High School before the commission for the Green McAdoo School. During the New Deal, Frank O. Barber also designed the Colonial Revival-styled Corryton School in Knox County. The firm's plan was a similar version to school plans for rural and small town African American neighborhoods, originally developed by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The local African American community had established a Rosenwald School Fund Committee and began local fundraising to get Rosenwald support. However, the Rosenwald Fund closed its school building program in 1932, before Clinton African Americans had an opportunity to raise their share of the funds and obtain Rosenwald backing. Several similar Rosenwald school campaigns across the South were finished by New Deal agencies, with primary funding going from TERA and its successor, the Works Progress Administration.

Located in the heart of the African American community, Green McAdoo represents the 1930s concept of a neighborhood school. The Green McAdoo community, including the teachers and parents, provided a good educational experience for students despite equipment, salaries, and opportunities that were extremely inadequate in comparison with white public elementary schools. Despite unequal treatment from the outside world, Green McAdoo’s faculty created a family atmosphere that is celebrated by alumni even today at a school that was never really part of the town.

The Civil Rights story of Clinton was influenced by internal and external factors. Clinton Colored School, like many others throughout the South, experienced several events that mapped the course of history. The building itself is an indicator of the changes that reshaped Clinton from the New Deal to the end of public school segregation in Clinton.


Because of the impact of Oak Ridge, the town and county experienced significant demographic change from 1940 to the 1950s. The Clinton Colored School also was a shared jurisdiction between the City of Clinton and Anderson County; it received funding from both, but was also responsible to both political entities. With the end of World War II, local African American citizens began to demand more equal school facilities. The Clinton Colored School was a two-classroom building, with no cafeteria, no gymnasium, and no indoor restrooms, while the school down the hill had all of these features, and more. Race relations, according to white and blacks interviewed after the desegregation crisis, had been acceptable. African Americans comprised only three percent of the county's population in 1950 there were only 67 school age black children in the county. Blacks were neither a demographic, political, or economic threat, but they still insisted on better facilities.21

In 1947, the board of education began to respond to those needs with the approval of a cafeteria and interior restrooms. They also agreed to change the school name to honor Green L. McAdoo. The board proclaimed: this Negro leader, now deceased, took an active part in promoting the civic interests of the Negro citizens of the Clinton community while he lived. The school is to be called the Green McAdoo Grammar School hereafter.22

McAdoo was a landowner and a valued employee of the Anderson County Courthouse. His father was Jack McAdoo, slave of the John McAdoo family who were among the first settlers in Anderson County. (Of this family, William Gibbs McAdoo Jr. became Secretary of the U.S. Treasury under President Woodrow Wilson.) Green L. McAdoo served 20 years in the Army with the 24th U.S. Infantry, based in Fort McIntosh, Texas, in 1878; at Fort Sill, Indiana Territory in 1887; and in 1890 at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. In 1896, Green McAdoo returned home from the army and was employed as custodian of the Anderson County Courthouse for the next 25 years.23

Due to the low enrollment of students at other county black elementary schools (Claxton, Andersonville, Oliver Springs, and Lake City), and the inferior facilities at those buildings, the Green McAdoo Grammar School in Clinton became the leading educational facility for African American students in Anderson County.24

The educational level there was for the 1st through the 8th grade. Since the school’s design provided for a stage, and the conversion of two classrooms into an auditorium-like space, the school became a popular secular community meeting location. After graduation from 8th grade, black students were bused to Austin High School in Knoxville, or Lafollette High School in Campbell County. No African American high school was provided for black students in Anderson County. In addition to the public facilities, several young African American women from Clinton attended the Allen Home School for Negro Girls, a private school for high-school aged girls under the Methodist Church in Asheville, North Carolina.

After closing as a segregated school, the Green McAdoo School served as home to the Anderson County Headstart Program until a new building was built in 2002. Today, the building remains locked, however, the dreams and possibilities of the building’s future are far from being over. Green McAdoo has earned a pivotal role in the City of Clinton’s revitalization campaign.

Through the efforts of the Green McAdoo Cultural Organization (GMCO) and the City of Clinton, plans are underway for the building to be transformed into the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in August 2006. The projected Green McAdoo Cultural Center 2006 opening will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Clinton’s desegregation story.
19David J. Brittain, "A Case Study of the Problems of Racial Integration in the Clinton Tennessee High School," Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1960;
Snyder E. Roberts, History of Clinton High School 1806-1971.

20Hoskins, Anderson County Historical Sketches, 263.

21Anderson County Population Totals, 1950 U.S. Census.

22Clinton City Board of Education Meeting Minutes, December 1, 1948.

23Hoskins, Anderson County Historical Sketches, 262.

24As related to the GMCO by Hazel Moore, Pat Henderson, Bronce Griffin, and Virginia Smith.