On August 27, 1956, Bobby Cain became the first African American to walk through the doors of an all-white public high school in the South, two years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, ordering schools in the South admit black students to public schools.

A 16-year-old trying to brush off the hatred around him.

Cain, now in his 70's, stares at the iconic picture of him walking into Clinton High School that day for the first time. The picture is part of the Tennessee State Museum's civil rights exhibit.

"I admire this, but they just don't know what I had to go through for this picture," said Cain.

Bobby and eleven others quickly walked through a line of white students and parents as they entered Clinton High. Sixty-three years later, Cain remembers he had one goal as he made his way to the front door.

"I can't speak for the other, they had the same thing in mind, to get into the school quickly," said Cain.

What Cain and the others endured during that brief walk, was both frightening and demeaning, as some students shouted and taunted them.

"I can't remember what they were saying, it wasn't good, and I tried to drown it out, I didn't try to pick up on what they were saying, a lot of that, I kind of put away in the back of my mind, it was not good," said Cain.

When Cain reached the front door of the school, he and the others were greeted by the principal. The hate he experienced outside, much to Cain's relief, quickly turned to a welcoming smile.

"I saw a smiling face, it was the principal, he lightened things a lot, and welcomed us to the school," said Cain.

However, during the the days and months that followed, Clinton High was not a welcoming environment for Cain.

"You go through, no one is talking to you, for a year, they didn't speak, because if they spoke to me openly, they probably would have been jumped on," said Cain.

A 16-year-old who cleared a path for others to follow.

"I never thought about  being a trail blazer, once I graduated, I went off to school and kind of put it in the back of my mind, and I didn't talk about it," said Cain.

He also never allowed the hate he experienced to take over his life.

"Just be mindful of people, try to be respectful," said Cain.

In 1996, Bobby Cain attended his class reunion. He and his former classmates never spoke about what happened during that turbulent year, too much time had passed. They only spoke of friendships.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Alan Frio is the anchor of News4's evening newscasts on Saturdays and Sundays.

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