Story of “The Clinton 12,” black teens who were first to integrate a public school in the South in 1956, told by members Bobby Cain and Gail Epps Upton and in award-winning documentary, at Berea College Jan. 18

Cain and Upton will also be awarded Berea College President’s Medallion

Bobby Cain and Gail Epps Upton were among a group of 12 black teenagers who in the fall of 1956 integrated the first public high school in the South, in Clinton, Tennessee, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that effectively ended legal racial segregation in the nation’s public schools. Cain and Upton will talk about the experience in conjunction with the showing of “The Clinton 12,” an award-winning documentary produced in 2007 about this dramatic and historic event that remained untold for 50 years. In 1957, Bobby Cain became the first African American male to graduate from an integrated public high school in the South, and a year later, Upton became the first female graduate of an integrated high school in Tennessee. In addition to their reflections on a segregated past, the two will also share their hopes for a reconciled future.

Berea College president Larry Shinn will honor Cain and Upton for their courageous and inspirational roles as members of the Clinton 12 by presenting them with the President’s Medallion. The award is given at the discretion of the president as a special recognition for those who have maintained a high level of commitment to Berea College and/or its educational mission.

After graduating from Clinton High School, Bobby L. Cain went on to earn a B.A. in sociology from Tennessee State University. In 2002, he retired after more than 30 years as a supervisor with the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Family Assistance Program. Early in his career he served in the U.S. Army and later for many years with the Army Reserves, retiring at the rank of Captain in 1993. For his role in the desegregation of Clinton High School Cain has been recognized by three Tennessee Governors, including current Gov. Phil Bresdensen, with several proclamations from Tennessee Representatives and other state offices and by church and other organizations.

Gail Ann Epps Upton graduated as a member of the 1958 class of Clinton High School, despite the fact that the school had been blown up earlier that year and its students had to attend classes elsewhere. She went on to attend Tennessee State University and worked as a substitute teacher for a time. Now a resident of Sweetwater, Tenn., she and her husband William John Upton Sr. had four children, and are the grandparents of eight grandchildren. Of her experience at Clinton she says “it wasn’t a pleasant one. The mobs, name calling and fear of having my family or my self harmed made it that way.” She says she is proud she persevered, however. “It makes me proud to have helped make it easier for other generations to come after me. My experience has made me a strong woman also.”

The documentary was produced by the Green McAdoo Cultural Organization, named after the former African American elementary school in the vicinity of Clinton. The former school is now the Green McAdoo Cultural Center. For more about the documentary, the story and legacy of The Clinton 12, visit

The hour-long event is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation and part of Berea College 2010 MLK Jr Day activities titled “Speak Justice to Me: Civil Rights in Appalachia.” Co-sponsors are the Berea College Black Cultural Center; African and African American Studies Department, Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center and the Office of the President.

Additional events on Jan. 18 include:

A Gathering of Prayer
11:30 a.m., Union Church Sanctuary
11:50 a.m., Annual March to City Hall

Come Let Us Break Bread Together Luncheon
12:30 p.m., Woods-Penniman Commons
Lunch provided, all are welcome

Carillon Concert featuring John Courter
playing “Favorite Songs of Martin Luther King Jr.”
5 p.m., Draper Quandrangle
Come and enjoy the sounds! Seating provided along with complimentary hot chocolate and hot cider

For more information, contact the Black Cultural Center at 859-985-3797.

Categories: News, People, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: African and African American Studies Department, Brown vs. Board of Education, Convocation, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation, President's Medallion, segregation, The Clinton 12

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.