Rachel Martin does a phenomenal job researching and sharing the story about Clinton, TN, a small rural Appalachian town that had the first school in the former Confederacy to undergo court-mandated desegregation. Martin began exploring the oral history of Clinton High School’s desegregation efforts when she was a graduate student in 2005. She continued to be immersed in Clinton, TN’s history for the next eighteen years. She spoke extensively with over sixty residents as well as the twelve courageous African-American high school students who entered Clinton High School on August 27, 1956.
A Most Tolerant Little Town: A Forgotten Story of Desegregation in America is a gripping, page-turning, non-fiction thriller based on the the events that occurred in Clinton, TN between 1956 – 1958. Some of the horrendous, racist actions included bombs, death threats, beatings, picket lines, KKK parades and burning crosses, gunshots, and rocks thrown through windows. The National Guard was called out. Evangelist Billy Graham spoke to thousands from the school gymnasium encouraging residents to love and take care of each other.
Yet Clinton, TN is an unknown story. Many people are familiar with the significant desegregation challenges at Central High School in Little Rock, AR in 1957 as well as other cities’ desegregation efforts (Birmingham, Nashville, Los Angeles, etc.). Martin shares that memories are not time machines. We choose what we want to remember and what we want to forget. Edward Murrow, a pioneering documentarian, created two award winning films about Clinton, TN, but the town is not mentioned in any official civil rights history.
Martin places the reader right in the center of riveting, action-packed drama. You feel as if you are walking the hallways of the high school.
Martin’s biggest lesson is that history is the story of human beings responding to events that are seldom under their control. She indicates that part of the story involves hamartia. I wasn’t familiar with that word and had to look up the definition: a fatal flaw which leads to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.
Highly, highly recommend!
Thanks, NetGalley, for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased opinion.