Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Cynthia G. Fleming, Diana Moyer, Jeannine R. Studer


Many traditional historical texts of the United States are missing the voiced presence of African Americans. Existing historical texts concerning desegregation in the South, and particularly in Tennessee, are missing African Americans’ experienced perspectives during racial desegregation in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The intention of this dissertation is to use oral history as a methodology to document the memories of seven African Americans who participated in the racial desegregation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee public schools. Critical race theory is the interpretive lens used to analyze the interviews. The oral historical accounts contained in this study suggest African Americans have a unique perspective that enhances existing historical accounts. Oak Ridge maintains a unique place in U.S. history. It was both the home of one of the United States government’s secret site for the Manhattan Project which led to the country’s World War II victory, as well as the first public school system in the state of Tennessee to racially desegregate in 1955. After May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court pronouncement that racially segregated public schools were inherently unequal, Oak Ridge public schools voluntarily complied and racially desegregated Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High Schools. The resulting action required the transfer of all seventh through twelfth grade African American students from Oak Ridge’s all “Colored” Scarboro School. The remaining enrollment of African American elementary school students continued until after the second-wave of racial desegregation laws took effect after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The complex history of African Americans in the United States and in particular within public education, positions this study within the realm of contingencies that re-scripts the United States’s historical narrative as well as the historical narrative of African Americans in Oak Ridge public schools.

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