Cover Image: A Most Tolerant Little Town

A Most Tolerant Little Town

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An eye opening book about what the town of Clinton, TN went through as it faced desegregation. I personally had no idea about the history of what these students endured as other towns’ histories overshadowed and was what most of us learned growing up. 

It’s a tough book to read, mostly because it’s so difficult to imagine the trauma and fear of the 12 teens. But it’s worth the time investment and remembering the fight.
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According to her publisher, author Rachel Louise Martin is an historian interested in "the politics of memory" and "the power of stories to illuminate why injustice persists in America today." Since arriving as a research fellow in 2005, she has interviewed over sixty townsfolk from Clinton, Tennessee and has subsequently written A MOST TOLERANT LITTLE TOWN, chronicling "the forgotten story of the first school to attempt court-mandated desegregation in the wake of Brown v. Board." Readers will feel the tension in the air as ten students walked down from the Hill to join two others; these 12 were met by white adult and white student protestors, some wearing signs around their necks, like in the haunting image on the book's cover.  Here is a short video summarizing those events:

embedded video from this link:

More video and additional resources are available through PBS Learning Media:

Martin's A MOST TOLERANT LITTLE TOWN is a valuable contribution and illuminates not only the larger societal trends, but importantly allows readers to better understand and to feel compassion for the students and their families. Her epilogue includes a perceptive 1960 quote from a Clinton High School teacher: "Desegregation involves the admittance of Negro students into a white school in compliance with the law. Integration involves the conversion of the two groups into a smooth-running system, with a working relationship free of tensions." Martin's commitment and zeal are evident in her extensive research conducted over several years; at least forty percent of her text is devoted to detailed notes and a wide-ranging bibliography.
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A Most Tolerant Little Town by Rachel Louise Martin is a detailed and very well-researched account of the first desegregation attempt in the south after Brown v Board of Education. It will, or at least should, move every reader.

There are a lot of books about many places and events of the Civil Rights movement. Oddly, the story of Clinton High School is mostly forgotten, in spite of predating the more well-known instances and getting national attention at the time. Martin rectifies that oversight with this volume and does so with an account rich in both historical human detail.

Most accounts that do address the human elements, that discuss feelings both at the time and since, center on known figures. These accounts are compelling, but they can only offer so much of the story. What we get here is the big picture, where Clinton High School stood in the movement of the day, as well as the personal accounts of those involved. These people come across as people we would have known as a neighbor or at least another person in our community. Yet the contradictions within the hearts and minds of many of the whites boggles the mind, and very much reflects the same contradictions present today, well over half a century later. The accounts of the Blacks illustrate what they went through and the degree to which domestic terrorism can hurt so many people. Again, just like the domestic terrorism of today that includes militias as well as governors more concerned with their careers than with governing for all citizens.

This book should make you angry at the same time it breaks your heart. It should be both a history lesson and a call to action to turn back the latest advances of racist and hateful attacks on citizens. It should be read by anyone interested in trying to make this country what it has always claimed, in its founding documents, to be but has yet to actually be.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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The author does a remarkable job at bringing history to life. In part, this is due to her focus on the people involved in the historical events. The details she includes also help set the scene, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. Ultimately, the town itself practically becomes a character. I look forward to more from this author.
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This was an entertaining and informative read. I found myself sharing what I learned from this book with those around me. I recommend it to fans of good and highly readable non-fiction.
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This is a well-researched history of school desegregation in a tiny town, Clinton, Tennessee, and the lengths people in the community went to to avoid allowing blacks into their schools. We meet the black students, their families, and their desire for a better education. And we meet the bigots, the young and old alike, who were raised to believe blacks were inferior and they don’t want to give up on that notion. 
But we also meet the people who tried to help cross that gap between the two factions. They weren’t as plentiful as the bigots, but they stood tall. 
The law was being enforced across the nation. It was a tumultuous time for many, a sad remembrance for the students that were affected, and a point of shame for those who fought desegregation. 
I was in middle school in Georgia when the law took effect in our little town. I was bussed over to the black neighborhood, where the residents were proud of their community, their churches, and especially their high school, which had won titles for years for their outstanding athletic teams. Then along comes a bunch of skinny, weak, uncoordinated little white boys to water down their athletics program. We were hated, picked on, shoved, hit, and taunted every day as soon as we stepped off the bus but we were never treated the way the black students in this story were treated. And as we moved through the years toward our senior year, we began to get along and wonder what all the fuss had been about. 
I knew bad things were happening across the South, but we were never told the absolute truth, just the spin the white leaders put on it all. Reading the account of this one little town in Tennessee, and knowing the struggle was happening in hundreds of little towns across America, is sobering. This book documenting the people, their actions, and ending results is well worth your time to read and reflect on, no matter what age or color you may be.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The publishing date was June 13, 2023.
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Before reading this book, I was not aware of Clinton, TN and its desegregation history. While the subject matter is difficult, the author does a remarkable job at bringing history to life. In part, this is due to her focus on the people involved in the historical events. The details she includes also help set the scene, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. Ultimately, the town itself practically becomes a character. I look forward to more from this author.

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for this book.
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I have struggled in the writing of this review; how can I write anymore about the horrors that the Black children experienced at the hands of their peers [and their hood-cloaked parents] just for the opportunity to go to school. S C H O O L!!! Something that the rest of us take completely for granted [and absolutely should not]. And while this story is not new [in the sense of what Black children and teens experienced all over America in trying to have the same experiences of everyone else], it IS new in the sense that it happened before Little Rock and is indeed the beginning of school desegregation and it was just as horrific and just as explosive [literally and figuratively] as what came after. 
This is not a happy book [history rarely is, even as we learn and remember and continue the fight for equality and change and the "unalienable rights of all"] and there is no happy ending [and what you learn about what is happening in schools RIGHT NOW will make you wonder just when people will learn, if ever], and you are left heartbroken and praying that someday, SOMEDAY, change will stick. This is a must-read book, especially if we are going to continue the fight. For we must. We must continue to get in "good trouble". 

Thank you to Rachel Louise Martin - your clear writing and willingness to show even the extremely ugly side of desegregation, made this book an amazing [and upsetting and ugly-crying] read and I am thankful for the reminder that the fight is not over. 
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Shuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Desegregation in a Small Southern Town

In 1956 twelve black students attended the high school in Clinton Tennessee. Other towns in the country like Little Rock, Arkansas were covered in detail, but the events in Clinton were relatively unknown. Rachael Martin became interested in the Clinton High School’s desegregation when she was a graduate student. She remained interested in the story of the town eventually interviewing over sixty residents as well as the twelves students. 

This is a sad and in some ways a brutal story with raciest actions, the KKK, beatings, and burning crosses. The story is filled with action, but for me it was hard to read about relatively normal townspeople becoming a vindictive mob. 

I appreciated that the author looked at the events from the standpoint of the townspeople. They weren’t simple hatred filled people. They saw their way of life disappearing and lashed out. It is the history of a very sad time in our country. Martin’s research is outstanding and the story is told so that the average reader can appreciate the scholarship, and also understand the story. 

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for this book.
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This was a hard book for me to read. Although I was in Junior High at the time of these events I had never heard of Clinton, TN and what happened there.  Perhaps I wasn’t old enough to imagine the emotional and physical toll paid by those who participated. Rachel Martin lays it all bare with a very detailed account of what happened when the Federal government ordered Clinton High School to desegregate and twelve Black students chose to attend. It’s a complex and harrowing story and Martin makes clear that those involved weren’t cardboard stereotypes, but regular people with fears, hopes and contradictions.  It’s also the story of how those elements can and did lead to mobs and threats and harassment and increasing violence. Through it all the Clinton 12 were trying to get an education while under tremendous stress.  Martin contends that monuments to individuals and groups like the Clinton 12 should not be celebrated as victories, but as reminders of the sacrifices made in an ongoing struggle.
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This was an especially shocking read for me, as I live a county away from this. I had been under the illusion that things weren't as bad here as they were until I'd looked up a graveyard linked to a plantation near the Manhattan Project plants they speak of in the book, which is not far from Clinton either. It was formerly the Wheat Community if you're interested. 

So after learning that a few months ago, when I saw this I knew I had to read it. Again, I thought it was going to be nicer than it was. It was another brutal lesson in how Black Americans were treated and in my grandmother's lifetime. When people say it ended after the Civil War so no one we've ever known has been affected by true racism, that just isn't true. People were like rabid dogs. It's disgusting. 

Of course there are the helpers that lend you some hope. Aside from all of the information on the Clinton schools the author has meticulously gathered, it also had a lot of historical facts of the area that I hadn't known.

This was a worthwhile read, though not easy for sure. 

Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read and review.
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This is a chilling account of one school's desegregation thanks to 12 brave Black students and their families who knew that they were putting their kids on the line, but believed that it would be for the better good and for a more hopeful and fair future. I call it a chilling account because the town presents as utterly normal and even nice in some ways. The first day of desegregation does have elements of hope. How different would it all unfolded without outsiders egging the townspeople on? 

Martin has done her research very well and you can envision both the characters and the setting. In some ways, it almost reads like a novel. And, the reader must not forget that this is not so far in the past that people don't still remember these days.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. There's a lot to absorb for both past and future lessons.
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A Most Tolerant Little Town is a riveting history of the first court ordered integration in Clinton, TN. This book is excellent. Well-written and thorough, it reveals the attitudes of the people who lived in Clinton in 1956. I was immediately drawn into the stories, the characters, and the time period.  It is a raw picture of the danger the twelve black students endured as they attended an integrated school where many mistreated them. The author Brought that whole era in history into startling clarity.  The writer's thoroughness is also a selling point. There are pages and pages of source material, almost as interesting as the book itself. I highly recommend this book for anyone who lives in the south, in a small town, or who wants to know about one of the most embarrassing parts of American history. It seems so amazing that this kind of racism was accepted in the 1950s.
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What a great example of empathetic history that this book is!  Martin takes us to Tennessee where a town struggles to adapt to integration at the local high school.  This isn't top down history by any means; readers won't find too many names they are familiar with, and those that they are primarily pop up in passing.  

Martin's work shows us how heroes can sometimes be the people that we would never expect them to be.  The principal of the high school had the most gripping story, and I was eager to see how he balanced the rights of the students and the tension within the town.  We can speak all we want to about Eisenhower and Little Rock, but how many people like the people portrayed in this book go unnoticed?

The other contribution that this book makes is by examining the other side of the integration story.  Not that racists need empathy or sympathy, but as historians, or as anyone who just wants to understand the situation in a fuller way, the book helps us to understand the other side.  In many ways (again, albeit racist), these people truly felt like their world was coming apart; that it just wasn't simply that they hated people because of their skin color.  It was the threat that African Americans made to their own existential outlook when they chose to attend the schools.  The traditions and ways of life that they had clung to had changed.  Again, this is not the right side to take, and I am not advocating that they deserve empathy.  However, maybe a way out of the racial tensions of our time can at least be somewhat found in this book:  by first understanding, and then guiding that other side to help them realize that change does not always mean loss.
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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 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.
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Everyone should read this book. Especially every educator, every school administrator. Martin does an outstanding job of chronicling the high school desegregation effort in Clinton, Tennessee in a thoughtful and provocative way that is going to make this a best-seller and a book club star. Although her research began as an academic project, her writing here is intended to reach a large and wide audience, and it is compelling and eloquent. Many Americans know the story of the Little Rock 9, but few know of the Clinton 12, but we should--and we should know the entire story, including the lives of those involved following the desegregation efforts. Martin provides a summary of just where the US is today in terms of school integration, and it is sobering and requiring of action on the parts of anyone interested in the future of education and the future of the United States.
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