About the Center
An Inside Peek at the Museum
1950s Period Classroom
Come in and join the class as Ms. Theresa Blair discusses the “Jim Crow” era in the South, the rights of her students at Green McAdoo, and desegregation of Clinton High School. She will introduce you to the local 1950 lawsuit, McSwain et al vs. Anderson County, and its relationship to the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education…all of which led to the desegregation of Clinton High School in 1956.
Desegregation of Clinton High School
Follow the chronologically detailed story of the 1956 desegregation of Clinton High School in life-size pictures with dramatic narrative.
The story begins with the community’s initial constructive approach to the historic event…then the arrival of outsiders with anti-integration propaganda… a week of growing violence… the formation of a home guard… the arrival of the national guard and martial law. Unlike the stories in Arkansas and Alabama, both the city and state governments supported the “Law of the Land”, represented by the desegregation ruling. The city’s white religious and economic leaders, such as the Rev. Paul Turner, a local Baptist minister, allied with the black students and their families, offering them protection in integration and challenging those they led to do the same in the face of rising violence. At one point, Rev. Turner was physically attacked for his heroic stand. The African-American community on Foley Hill became a rallying point for Clinton in the struggle for equal rights for all citizens. In retaliation, white supremacists bombed the high school in 1958, destroying the building, but not halting the progress of equality. Instead, the Anderson County community, citizens and students from Clinton and Oak Ridge refurbished an abandoned elementary school in Oak Ridge- and Clinton High School was back in session in one week, still integrated.
This documented history is not an independent account of Green McAdoo School, Clinton High School, the black community, the white community, or the Clinton 12, but the complete story of how all came together and became the success story that is deserving of preservation and national recognition.
Interactive screens will allow you to see the Clinton 12 and others in person and hear their recollections and reflections from interviews by Keith McDaniel, producer of the award winning Clinton 12: A Documentary, which was narrated by James Earl Jones.
In this room you can read the biographies of the Clinton 12 and others who played a role in the desegregation of Clinton High School. You can also watch the CBS broadcast of See It Now, entitled Clinton and the Law, narrated and produced by Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, in January 1957, and a short sequel from CBS Reports which aired nationally in 1962.
The 12 Students for whom this center is celebrated and dedicated.
Maurice Soles was born on July 25, 1941 to Willie Soles and Marie Royston of Anniston, Alabama. He has three brothers: oldest Alfred Williams, Eddie Soles, and Charlie Williams. Before moving to Tennessee in the 1950s, Maurice attended a predominantly black elementary school named 12th Street. He moved here with his uncle Steve Williams and brothers.
Maurice and his brother Alfred enrolled in Clinton High School in 1956. Maurice was in for a big surprise. At the age of 16, he learned that there was a big difference between his former predominantly black and the predominantly white school. He came to realize that most of the white students wanted them to get along and fit in. The big problem seemed to be parents and other adults causing confusion and not wanting them to integrate.
Maurice married at the age of 18 and worked full-time with Ralph Roger Company to support his family. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 to fight in the Vietnam War. He came home a disabled veteran. After leaving the army, Maurice, along with his wife and three kids moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He lived there for several years, receiving his GED and returning to Clinton, Tennessee to work in the concrete business with his brother, Eddie Soles.
Maurice has a total of nine children, seven daughters and 2 sons. He has 16 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. At present, he resides in Clinton, TN with his wife Lillie, enjoying fishing and helping with his grandchildren. Maurice takes life as it comes, one day at a time.
What he accomplished and tried to achieve during his lifetime, he prays will inspire young children of today to set high goals for themselves and opportunities to work with all races for a better tomorrow.
Anna Theresser Caswell
Age: 63 Birth Place: Fayettville, TN – Lincoln County Parents: Mrs. Bernice M. Beatty (Deceased) Brothers and Sisters: William T. Gist, Valerie Beatty, and Francis K. Hill Children: Ricky O. Caswell, Darryl Caswell, Kevin L. Caswell (10 grandchildren) Education: 11th Grade Present Status: Retired 10 years Where you Live: Claxton, TN Where Employed: Retired How Long Employed: 29 years Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc. Hobbies or Interests: Playing Pinochle, Cooking, Going to Church
Age: 69 Where Born: Anniston, Alabama Parents: Marie Royston Brothers & Sisters: Eddie, Maurice, and Charlie Soles Children: None Present Status: Where you Live: Clinton, Tennessee Where Employed: Clinton City School Systems How long employed: 11 years Hobbies or Interests: Baseball, Watching TV, and Bowling
Regina Turner Smith
Age: 65 Where Born: Atlanta, Georgia Parents: Louise and Will Turner Brothers and Sisters: 4 brothers (2 deceased) 2 sisters (1 sister deceased) Children: Victor Smith Education: Knoxville Business College Where you Live: Oak Ridge, TN Where Employed: Modine Manufacturing Company How Long Employed: 34 years Hobbies or Interests: Reading and Church
William R. Latham
Age: 66 Where Born: Powell, TN Brothers & Sisters: Charles, Gladys, and Amie Children: Four Education: GED, Army Present Status: Retired Where You Live: 110 Bettis Lane, Oak Ridge, TN Where Employed: Purity Packing Company, U.S. Army, Pat Pavers Company, Davis Construction Hobbies or Interests: Fishing
Gail Ann Epps Upton
My name is Gail Ann Epps Upton. I was born September 14, 1940 in Clinton, Tennessee. My parents are Mrs. Anna Mae Moore Hale and the late William Lee Epps.
In 1956 I was one of the 12 Black students to enter the Clinton Senior High School which was an all white school at the time.
I was the first Black female to graduate from an all white school in Tennessee, if not in the South.
My experience at Clinton High was not a pleasant one. The mobs, name calling, and fear of having my family or myself harmed made it that way.
The Clinton Desegregation has made in impact on my life. Being it was the right thing to do, because we had to be bused all the way to Knoxville to school just because we had black skin. Also it makes me proud to have helped make it easier for other generations to come after me. And it also makes me proud to be part of the making of History. My experience has made me a strong woman also.
All the students at Clinton High were not in the name calling, etc., inside the classroom wasn’t so bad. Once you got out of class and into the halls it was a different story. It would be name calling, pulling my ponytails and stepping on my heels that sometimes would bleed. One day I was almost pushed out a window.
My advice to the youth of today is to stay strong, stay in school, and put GOD first in their lives.
After graduating from Clinton High, I attended Tennessee State University at Nashville. I was also a substitute teacher at Green McAdoo School.
I now live in Sweetwater, Tennessee. I am married to William John Upton Sr., our children are: William John Upton, Jr. (deceased); Raymond Patrick Upton, a detective in Loudon County; Wesley Lamont Upton, a factory foreman in Versailles, Kentucky; Maenise Leanne Upton, a Unit Secretary at Sweetwater Hospital. Montasha Upton, a granddaughter has also been reared as our own. We have seven other grandchildren. I am a member of Mt. Bethel Baptist Church, where I am the Church Clerk. My only sister, Sandra Character, also graduated from Clinton Senior High School and now lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ronald Gordon “Poochie” Hayden (March 20, 1942-February 10, 1966)
Ronald Gordon “Poochie” Hayden was born in Clinton, TN, on March 4, 1942. The oldest child of Thomas (TJ) and Louise (Wallace) Hayden, the nickname Poochie was given to him by his Aunt – Marie Wallace (sister to Louise).
Poochie was a quiet, unassuming young man. His passion and hobbies included lifting weights, playing records, a fondness for nice clothes and hanging out with his friends. His closest friends were William “June” Griffin, Nevie James Barton, Alfred “Frog” Williams all of Clinton and Howard Joyner of Lake City.
Poochie began school at Green McAdoo in August/September 1948. During that time, the Black children in Clinton went to Green McAdoo for grades one through eighth, and then transferred to Austin High in Knoxville. When Poochie graduated from the 8 th grade at Green McAdoo, it was the spring of 1956. During this same period, Clinton High School had been ordered to integrate no later than fall term 1956. That fall, he became one of the “Clinton 12” that would descend each day down Broad Street to school, now that Clinton High School has become an integrated school.
He was not able to complete his education at Clinton High School. During the time he was attending, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was forced to leave school a few months into the school year because of this illness. Poochie had brain surgery at Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. As a result of the tumor and subsequent surgery, he was left legally blind and given two years to live at the young age of 14. Although he was left legally blind, this did not deter Poochie from completing his vision of a normal life.
He attended the School for the Blind in Talladega, Alabama. It was there he met his future wife, Ms. Lillian Boykin, a former Miss Fairfield from Fairfield, Alabama. Lillian and Poochie were married and returned to Clinton where they lived in the same house that had been damaged earlier (broken windows) from a dynamite blast when the integration of Clinton High School first began.
Poochie, along with the other students who made the daily trip down the hill to Clinton High, was determined to compete at every level of life. The battles by the first 12 were fought on many levels besides academically. There was also a personal battle within to find the strength and courage to walk down Broad Street and face what was typically an angry crowd. By this time, there were four other children in the Hayden household and the events surrounding the integration of Clinton High School made for many anxious moments. At a time when he should have been enjoying his youth, he had to hide his fear each day as he walked to school and keep that fear hidden once he safely returned home because he was the calming voice in a household filled with stress and anxiety. But these feelings were not limited to a single household, or a single community. In August of 1956, Poochie, along with the other 11 students, became a rock that can be built on as a part of the foundation of the city of Clinton.
According to James Cain, who was his companion on his many trips to Nashville, Tennessee for his doctor visits, Poochie had a dream of becoming a corporate lawyer. And even though this dream was shattered for him at an early age, he, along with the other eleven students, took the first courageous steps through the door that had been previously closed to them, providing those that walked behind them, an opportunity to walk through many doors to pursue their dream.
Poochie passed away on February 10, 1966, almost 8 years after he was diagnosed as having two years to live after his last surgery. This shows the will of a young man. Even with his illness, he never stopped learning. His courage (on both fronts) and his desire was his contribution to those who knew him. He truly made the most of each day he lived, and lived each day as though it was his last. After he lived past the two years after his last surgery, he knew he was living on borrowed time.
Robert Thacker was born on August 12, 1939 in Bruce, Mississippi. His parents are Johnny Miller Thacker and Rosevelt Thacker. He attended school in Oak Ridge and Knoxville before enrolling in Clinton High School in August of 1956. After the completion of his Junior year at Clinton High School, he moved with his parents to Mount Clemens, Michigan and graduated in 1958 from Mount Clemens High school. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. His job while in the U.S. Army was in the Artillery Division. After serving his tour with the U.S. Army, he took a job with the Ford Motor Plant in New Haven, Michigan. He met and married his wife of 43 years Yvonne Thacker. He and Yvonne have five children, and he has five other children from previous relationships, including a daughter who lives in East Tennessee (Valerie Weaver). After several years of working at the Ford Motor Company, he operated his own trucking firm in Pontiac, Michigan where he lived until his retirement two years ago. He has since moved to Holly, Michigan, with his wife, son, and grandson. According to Robert, these days you can find him taking it easy and relaxing on his ½ acre property where his is 2 miles away from the nearest neighbor. When asked about his memories of August 1956, he said he doesn’t remember much about that time at all, but he does remember that there was an incident at school and all the students had to be picked up and driven up the hill to safety.
Minnie Ann Dickie Jones
Date and Place of Birth? Knox County, either on the Mayes or Day farm. Was delivered by a midwife in Lonesome Dove on 10-31-1939.
What did you take away from the Clinton High School Experience? A horrible experience to go through. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I really did not know that people could be so mean and hateful. I guess you could say that I took away a sense of pride for which I am, and my heritage for it continues to be a struggle.
What advice would you give today’s youth about your experience? Not to take anything for granted. Make the most of whatever you have and not to put someone else down for having less than you do, but to help that person if you can. In life no one knows what’s going to happen or what challenges you will have to face, but hold true to your faith in god and he will see you through.
What was it like inside the classroom at Clinton High School? It was not easy being some place that you were not welcome. We had to endure constant name calling, and some kids throwing spit balls at us everyday. It was a hard place to learn if you learned anything at all. Most of the teacher would not say anything to the other kids that was bothering us. Most of the time you were not calls upon to answer any questions. It was like you did not exist. The entire time I was afraid because the KKK would ride up and down the street with guns out their windows. Sometimes they would turn cars over if the people inside was black. On night I remember that all the women and children had to leave their homes and stay at the church due to threats that the white men were coming to kill all of us. Many nights we would be home in the dark and could not have our lights on.
What have you done since leaving Clinton High School? Raised a loving family, Work, volunteer for a Head Start in Knoxville
Did you attend college? If so, where? No
Tell me about you family – what are they doing? I am married to Minister Russell T. Jones. My parents and one brother have gone home to glory. I have four brothers that are retired, one sister. I have one child and three step-children, 12 grandkids, 6 great grandkids.
Bobby L. Cain, son of the late Robert and Margaret Beatrice Cain, resides with his wife, Margo in Nashville, Tennessee. They have one daughter, Yvette Y. Cain-Frank, who is an attorney in Nashville. She is married to Paul A. Frank. They are the proud parents of a son, Tobias Cain Frank.
In May of 1961, Bobby graduated from Tennessee State wherein he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in the field of Sociology. Bobby served in the U.S. Army from 1963-1965. He was stationed as a recruiter in downtown Spoken Washington. He received an Honorable Discharged as Specialist Four in 1965. Bobby served in the United States Army Reserve from 1977 to 1993 wherein he retired as a Captain from the 306 Medical Clearing Company Army Reserve. Before retirement, he served in the Desert Storm Operations. Bobby is presently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Tennessee State Guards (Volunteer Service).
Bobby was employed as a Supervisor for the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services in the Family Assistance Program. He retired in May of 2002 after 30 + years of service. Bobby continues to be recognized for his steadfast actions displayed during the 1956-57 desegregation of Clinton High School. He has received proclamations from former Governors of Tennessee: Governor Don Sunquist, Governors Ed McWhorter and presently Governor Phil Bredesen, He has also received a proclamation from the State of Tennessee Honorable Senator Thelma Harper, a Distinguished Service Recognition by the Honorable Bob Clement of the 5th Congressional District of Tennessee; Certificate of Merit Recognition by the State of Tennessee Honorable Edith Taylor Langseter, member of the House of Representative in the State of Tennessee. Bobby has served as guest speaker for the Metro-Nashville schools; Juvenile Court of Davidson County youth groups; churches and other organizations. One highlight of his speaking engagement was being invited by his niece, Rosalind Renee’ McCleary, TMGR, Lucent Technologies Bell Laboratories Diversity Group in Lisle, Illinois in December of 2003. In February of 2005, the Nashville Tennessean recognized Bobby for being a Southern “First.” In March of 2005, Honorable Jim Cooper of Tennessee in the House of Representatives of the Fifth Congressional District, honored Bobby in Washington, D.C. for being a pioneer in the fight to desegregate the South. He was awarded a Congressional Record plaque. The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity of which Bobby is Lifetime Member, honored Bobby for his courage during those turbulent days at Clinton High School in 1956-57.
Bobby is a faithful member of Asbury United Methodist Church in Clinton, Tennessee and active associate member of Fifteen Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Bobby gives credit to his steadfast actions during the 1956-57 period to his faith in God and the prayers of his parents, family members and the many citizens in Clinton, Tennessee.
I, Alvah Jay Mc Swain, am from a large family of 19 children, I am the 15th child born to Allen And Winona Mc Swain in Clinton, Tennessee June 12,1941. I am the eighth child to live to be grown. The babies of the family were Triplets, two girls and one boy.
I started to school at the age of 6 in August 1947 at Green Mc Adoo Elementary School. Ms Theresa E. Blair was my first teacher, she taught me from primary class to the 4th grade. There was no kindergarten. It was primary class. Mr. Clifton A Moore taught me from 5th grade to the 8th grade, until I graduated. In 1949 my father and mother started a family gospel-singing group, the Mc Swain Gospel Singers. We traveled one end of Tennessee to the other end, we traveled to Kentucky and Virginia. In 1950 I joined Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Rev O.W. Willis Sr. was the Pastor.
In August 1956 I became one of the Clinton 12. In Amy 1957 the family moved to Los Angeles, California for the safety of my grandmother and the younger brothers and sister. When I moved to Los Angeles I went to John C Fremont High in the 10th grade. My grandmother, Lela G. Worthington got real sick and I had to quit school to help my mother, Winona Mc Swain take care of her. When my grandmother got well enough that I could go back to school, I had to go to night school and I talked my mother in to going back to school with me. In June 1963 my mother and I graduated from john C Fremont high school together. That was one of the happiest days of my life.
I am not an indoor person; I chose to be a driver for my career. For over 10 years. I drove a 10-wheeler dump truck, and then I was a non- emergency medical driver until I had to take a Medical retirement in 1995. I got married October 22,1961 To Carlton Lambert. I have 3 daughters, Lela Winona, Jamandawa & Jofaye Peaye and 2 sons, Felix LaFayette & Rodney Lee and 1 stepdaughter Andrea Veronica, 17 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
Jo Ann Crozier Allen Boyce
I was born in the small southern town of Clinton in eastern Tennessee, September 15, 1941. My parents were Alice Josephine Hopper Allen who was a native of Oliver Springs, TN and Herbert Allen who was born in Luverne AL. They met after both relocated to Clinton to seek employment. On their meeting, my father was working for a local physician who lived on Eagle Bend Road and my mom was working for the Crenshaw family who lived next door. After a fairly long courtship, they were married in the Crenshaw home in 1938. Following my birth, my sister Mamie Kathleen was born April 28, 1944 and my brother Herbert Howard was born July 6, 1953.
We lived in a small, but lovely home with a large kitchen and two bedrooms on Jarnigan Road. During my early years, we had no inside toilet facilities and I remember the times we had to make the trek to the outside toilet in the cold. Better memories are taking a bath in the big tub in the warmth of the kitchen. I will never forget when we finally had access to the towns’ sewer system and were able to install our inside bathroom. It was pink and, “Oh, so pretty.” My sister and I shared a bedroom. I remember our bedroom because our mom redecorated it just for us girls. There was wallpaper with red Robins on it and a dressing table that had a frilly coverlet surrounding the legs. We thought it was the prettiest room ever. My sister and I had twin beds. I remember when she would have a bad dream; she’d run into our parents’ room and climb in their bed. Eventually, my dad would come and get into my sister’s bed. He snored very loudly and made very funny sounds at which I laughed at until I fell asleep again.
Green McAdoo was my first encounter with an establishment of higher learning. I credit my parents, however, with the initiation of my education. I could read by the age of five and because of that I ended up being started in the first grade. My first teacher was Miss Teresa Blair. Without she and my parents, my formative years of education might not have been so great given that the school for “colored children” was only two rooms with two teachers having to educate eight grades. First through fourth grades were in one room, and fifth through eighth grades in another. We rarely, if ever, had new books but used second hand books from the white elementary school. But given Ms. Blair’s zeal for teaching and my parent’s strong belief in education, I managed to make good grades in almost every subject. Mathematics was my one exception, especially later, when I would take algebra and geometry. My favorite subjects were Reading, Writing, English and Science. I still have my little awards for the books I read.
When I was 12 years old, my little brother was born. My mom was very ill during her pregnancy and we would learn that she had a tumor blocking the baby. First, she had to have a caesarian section and then she had to remain in the hospital to have the tumor removed. I got to stay home from school and help my father with the new baby and help take care of our house. I loved every minute of it, except the crying baby at night. I was happy when my mom came home. I was also happy to have a baby brother. I am told I wasn’t quite as nice when my sister was born. I was three years old and apparently fairly spoiled, since up to her birth, I was the only child/grandchild out of all my mothers’ and fathers’ sisters and brothers. After my sister’s birth I stayed with my maternal grandmother and aunt for a short time “until I cooled down.” While we were growing up, we had a love/hate relationship. Because of our three-year age difference she had a tendency towards telling tattletales especially when it came to my relationship with boys. I liked boys a lot and they liked me, so there were lots of fights with my little sister! I would protect her from anyone or anything that might do her harm on one hand; on the other hand, I was constantly threatening her with bodily harm if she told our parents about me “holding hands” with my “boyfriend.” In retrospect, my sister was, as well, protecting me. At the time, I just didn’t know it. Of course that all changed when she grew up and discovered boys herself. Today, we are a very close sister team; we’re best friends sharing our deepest, scariest secrets and our wildest dreams. With my little bother, our relationship was more the “other mother” role. Because of our age differences I was married with my own child while he was still young. He was my third child and went everywhere with my husband our two sons and me. He became a great baby sitter to his two nephews. Of course, he grew up and there went the baby-sitting. He and I have always been able to communicate with one another and to this day, we can still sometimes talk on the telephone for hours. I doubt if I’m still a mother figure though. He definitely doesn’t always “hear what I’m saying!”
Growing up in a small southern town like Clinton during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, there was little for “colored kids” to do outside of school activities and one’s church. And so, there were the school plays and pageants, assemblies and talent shows with the community coming out in full force to encourage, cajole, egg-on, their children. I don’t ever remember a time that these events weren’t fun. Then there were our churches, Mt. Sinai Baptist and Asbury Methodist always the pillars of the community. I belonged to Mt. Sinai where my father directed the church choir and my mom played the piano. We were a musical family; my sister and I sang duets for church services, during special programs and sometimes when the choir went “on the road” to visit other churches. There was summer Bible Study School, Sunday school, Wednesday night prayer meeting and of course two services to attend every Sunday. I loved it when we traveled on a big Greyhound bus to as far away as Kentucky and into the Smoky Mountains. Going up and down the mountain roads in a big bus was scary but no less thrilling to me. Some of the fondest memories are of the churches’ Friday night fish fries, drinking red soda pop with peanuts with peanuts in the bottom of the bottles and running through the graveyard that same night being chased by some unknown person intent on scaring you to death. Of course, death never occurred but your adrenaline level was sent skyrocketing as you keeled over with laughter. Considering how much there is for today’s children to do and get involved in I think I’m grateful for a more innocent time for I know it sparked my creativity and imagination.
After graduating Green McAdoo Elementary, I rode a school bus with my fellow classmates, to Vine Junior High School in Knoxville that was at least 20 miles from home. I attended the ninth grade there and then from August 1955 to June 1956, my Clinton classmates and I attended Austin High School for our first year of high school education. There were times during those days that we did not make it to school due to inclement weather or some other untoward event. It was a long tiresome trip we had to make because our hometown school was not open to black students. I developed long lasting friendships as a result of my time at both schools. Today, some of my former classmates from Knoxville remain in my life. In 1956, court ordered desegregation of Clinton High School would change the course of my life into a totally new direction.
Funny how some things happen in your life that you can soon forget unless you actively think about them all the time. Many life-altering events have happened to me but two are strangely and indelibly etched in my memories and inexplicably linked because of the date of their occurrences. They both occurred on August 27, only in different year. The first was in 1956 when I along with eleven of my friends and classmates became the first black students to integrate an all white school in the southeastern United States. For me, it would become an unfinished journey. After five months of attending a school that was reasonably calm on the inside but a sea of turmoil and bigotry on the outside and unlike anything any of us had ever experienced, I left the school and Clinton. The hate we, as a group, faced daily when walking to school, while climbing the stairs to enter and on a too frequent basis in the school’s hallways, is much to much to address in this document. I will only say that it was the first most excruciatingly painful event ever to happen to me. As a black child of the south, I was well familiar with bigotry. I “knew my place” even though I didn’t understand it at all. I didn’t get bigotry and hatred then; I don’t get it today. So why was it such a painful ordeal? Because, like any human, having anyone dislike you because of the color of your skin, your physical appearance, your religion or any of a hundred other reasons, is a difficult and bitter elixir to swallow. But for children, having hatred slammed in your face en mass is far more traumatic and damaging than all the years of sticking to the rules because you “knew your place.” That time, fortunately, did not change who I was but only strengthened my character and made me a more loving, forgiving person. As my parents had always taught me, I could be whatever I wanted to be and no amount of hatred could be allowed to hold me back or hold me down. But, just as the second most difficult thing that happened to me 44 years later in the form of a right-sided brain attack, the challenges of 1956 were difficult. They required a great deal of courage and fortitude o the parts of the 12 black kids that walked the walk, their parents, the black community and thankfully, finally many of the people of the whole town. My growing took time, hard work and a firm resolve, as did my recovery from the stroke.
In December 1956, at the urging of my mother’s brother Samuel Harper who had lived in California for many years, my family and I packed up and headed West. As I, and most of the “Clinton 12,” prepare to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the historical events of August 27, 1956, I will celebrate 50 years in Los Angeles. I completed high school at Dorsey High School in 1958 after which I attended Los Angeles City Junior College and Nursing school. I graduated in 1963 and began my 40 years plus career in nursing, most of that time being in pediatrics. I knew at the age of 10 years that I wanted to be a nurse. When I helped care for my little brother, I knew I wanted to be a pediatric nurse, although I doubt that I knew the word pediatric at that time. I paid my way through school working part time as a dental assistant.
I was married to my husband Victor E. Boyce on November 1, 1959 at age 18. We met at a very large dance club on the beach in Santa Monica, CA. The music leader was Cal Tjader and my future husband and I danced the Salsa until the lights came up. We’re still dancing today. I have three wonderful children and three superb grandchildren. My eldest is Victor Hillard who lives close by in Van Nuys, CA with wife Elizabeth, children Cameron age 6 and Maya age 4 years. London Gregory is my second born and lives even closer in Los Angeles with fiancé Liliana and son D’mitri and finally my daughter Kamlyn Monique who lives the closest for now. In May, she will move into her new home with fiancé Davon. My immediate family, including my sister Mamie and my now not so little brother Herbert live within easy reach of each other and we maintain a close bond despite the size of the city and its’ logistic challenges. Church remains an integral part of our lives and until recently I sang in the choir and as a soloist just like when I was at “home.”
After moving to Los Angeles, my sister and I teamed up with our cousin Sandra Harper, daughter of our Uncle Sam to form The Debs. We sang on stage and make a couple of records (45’s) that were heard mostly back east. Our then manager was Bumps Blackwell, the manager of singer Sam Cooke. It was as exciting time in our lives. We still wow our friends and family with our incredible ability to harmonize with each other. Our little group disbanded when I took on the marital role. In 1995, I began to sing again. This time solo and instead of R&B, I took on the role of “jazz singer.” I fulfilled a passionate dream of singing on stage in one of the most famous cabarets in Los Angeles, the Cinegrill. My fun career came to an abrupt halt in 2000 after the stroke. Oh, this doesn’t mean I don’t sing anymore. It is a passion I will never give up; a gift I will never take for granted. Someday, I hope to take the stage again. With a bit of hard work, courage and a resolve to never give up, I don’t doubt that I will do just that. Besides singing, I also write poetry and have had several poems published.
After retiring July 2005, I spent a lot of my new free time attending my father Herbert. Sadly, he passed away December 2005. He was my greatest inspiration for living my life always seeing the “glass half-full!” There is much left for me to do. Three grandchildren for now who keep me very busy; it’s time for me to write a new poem, Noble House is calling; I’ve still got tons of books to read and reread (the classics) and Oh Yes, there’s a trip back to Clinton in August! I just can’t wait!