BLACK HISTORY MONTH; Book Details Path to Desegregation

By McCoy, Lydia X | News Sentinel, February 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

BLACK HISTORY MONTH; Book Details Path to Desegregation


McCoy, Lydia X, News Sentinel


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Ex- schools chief examines landmark case

For 10 years, files from the landmark court case that desegregated Knoxville City Schools sat in the basement of former Superintendent Fred Bedelle.

Several years ago, Bedelle pulled them out, dusted them off and decided to finally write the book he had always talked about writing on the 1959 case and its place in Knoxville's history.

"It's an important part of the history of this area, and I hope that it does portray a complete and consistent story of the Goss case as it affected desegregation in Knoxville City Schools," he said. "Desegregation in the area has been written by several people, but the Goss case - which was the very center of school desegregation in Knoxville - has not been done from beginning to end. This, I think, is an important historical element from this community."

See HISTORY, 3B

KEEPING CALM

In 1959, Josephine Goss and 16 other students filed a lawsuit against the Knoxville Board of Education, alleging that the district was in violation of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which paved the way to integrate American schools. Knoxville school officials decided to desegregate the system one grade level a year, but things went so smoothly that the process was sped up. By 1964, the entire school system was desegregated.

The court case lingered because of a number of appeals. It finally ended in 1974.

Bedelle said his still-untitled book is "really about the four lawyers that were involved, Judge (Robert L.) Taylor and all of the legal maneuvering that was going on at the time."

"It was a time when Clinton had blown up two or three years earlier. Chattanooga was having problems. Nashville was having problems with demonstrations, and Memphis had a real problem," he said.

"So the intentions were: 'For God's sake, let's not do like some of the others.' The way the case was executed, I think it kept Knoxville from being exposed to a lot of the emotions."

Bedelle said Knoxville made it through because of leaders in both the black and white communities, several of whom he interviewed for the book.

INTEGRATING THE FACULTY

In the early '60s, Bedelle was working for Knoxville City Schools as assistant personnel director and had been assigned to interview teachers who were going to be placed in schools that were being annexed.

He soon found himself supervising research and development for the district's desegregation plan, which included redoing the school zone lines previously mapped for segregation.

His largest role, however, would come in helping to desegregate faculty at the schools.

"But when I had to start moving the faculty, I knew what I was doing and I did not like to do it at all," Bedelle said. "I talked with a lot of the black community folks ... about how you're going to keep the school together."

In the early 1970s, the district began to integrate the faculty. Bedelle said he picked some of the best black teachers he could find in the system with personalities he knew could withstand possible prejudiced attitudes. …

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