The community is encouraged to attend a send-off for members of “The Oak Ridge 85” traveling to Washington D.C. to be honored.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (Nov. 28, 2021) – There are only 30 known remaining members of the Scarboro Oak Ridge 85 who attended Robertsville Middle and Oak Ridge High schools 66 years ago to become the first Blacks to attend an all-white southern school.
The community is encouraged to attend a send-off at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 195 Wilberforce Ave, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, where the honorees will board by 7 am, Tuesday, November 30th. The Scarboro OR85 committee sponsors the celebration.
On Wednesday, December 1st, five of the remaining Oak Ridge 85 will be the group’s honorees in a special ceremony at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. by the American Nuclear Society and a Tennessee Senator.
Alma McKinney Stevens, Ernestine Avery, Shirley James, Leroy Justice, and Dorothy Kirk Lewis will travel by bus to the nation’s Capitol. Family and community members will accompany them.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision on Brown versus Board of Education ordered the desegregation of public schools. Many schools in the South chose to challenge the decision by uniting in rejection of the Supreme Court’s order. School systems in the Southeast did not welcome the change. None wanted to be the first Southeastern school to challenge the rigid and often violent Jim Crow racial culture.
In January of 1955, the Department of Energy (then the Atomic Energy Commission) ordered its schools in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to desegregate. On the first day of the school year, 85 Black students from the Scarboro community showed up for classes at the all-white Robertsville Middle and Oak Ridge High schools. They became known as the historical “Oak Ridge 85.”
The following year, a second Anderson County High School was desegregated by “The Clinton 12.” Followed by the Arkansas 1957 desegregation with “The Little Rock Nine.”
These children were placed on the frontline of the battle for Blacks to have access to an equitable education by being forcibly integrated into all-white school systems.