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Black History: WC Schools desegregated in 1961

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In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., that state laws separating African American and white public schools was unconstitutional, however it would be several years later before Wilson County desegregated its schools.

In the spring of 1961, the Rev. Cordell Sloan is agreed by many to be the catalyst for local school desegregation efforts. He enrolled his sons, Cordell Sloan Jr., and Clifford Sloan, in McClain Elementary School.

Both of Sloans sons were refused admission to the school.

Several Wilson County farmers put up their land to pay for the services of Nashville attorneys Avon Williams and Z. Alexander Lobby to file a lawsuit against the Wilson County School System.

Roy E. Bailey of Mt. Juliet brought many of the farmers together to get them involved, as well as worked to create support for the lawsuit throughout the community. Also, in August 1961, many students attempted to register at Lebanon High School, however Principal Charles Neighbors refused to enroll them.

In September 1961, a judge ruled in the favor of the plaintiffs and segregation in Wilson County schools was ended, along with segregation in two other counties.

Sloan Jr., attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., and studied Physics and Economics. The Sloan family moved to Philadelphia in 1966. The Rev. Sloan passed away in 1987 due to a heart attack.

Information for this article was found in the book In Their Own Voices, An Account of the Presence of African Americans in Wilson County, published in 1999.

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