I met Jo Ann Allen Boyce at one of her cousin’s houses just outside Clinton, TN. She was in town from California for a family reunion, and her relatives were all excited to see her.
Boyce was one of the twelve black students who enrolled in (the formerly all white) Clinton High School in August 1956. She was excited about the coming year. The lengthy commute to Knoxville’s all-black Austin High School had kept her from being able to be part of student life, and she hoped things would be different this year. At first, that seemed likely. She was elected an officer in her homeroom class, and she started to make new friends.
The violence of the coming days surprised her.
Boyce was smart, pretty and self-possessed, so she was one of the students the media liked to interview. Because of this, in late September she was one of two students given the opportunity to go to DC to participate in “College Press Conference,” a tv show in which college students interviewed public figures. In this clip, she talks about that experience and then mourns the friendships she didn’t get to have.
Boyce remained at Clinton High until December 1956. One night, her father stood up to the Klan. He was arrested for doing so. Her mother decided they couldn’t stay in town any longer. “All these things kept accumulating and accumulating,” Boyce told me. “My mother just got to that point where she was not just fearful, but she was angry.” They moved to Los Angeles, where they had extended family. “We brought the bare essentials. Furniture and toys, books, everything, all that was left,” Boyce said. At that point, a cousin came into the room. The two of them started pointing out pieces they had left behind: a dining room table, a gooseneck chair, another sitting chair. “The thing that I remember that I hated to leave the most was my dollhouse,” Boyce said. “I had a two-story dollhouse. It was my favorite toy in the whole wide world. Barbie dollhouses can’t compare.”
In California, Boyce attended and graduated from a fully integrated high school. She became a pediatric nurse and eventually became a professional singer as well.
This oral history is one of the conversations I recorded as part of Out of the Silence.