By Betsy Thorpe
“It was an uplifting experience. Very emotional and spiritual for me. I pray that President Obama is a God sent and he will make a difference and a change this world has longed for.”
Delia Clark on the inauguration of Barack Obama
January 21, 2009
The city of Chickamauga is located in northern Georgia near the banks of Chickamauga Creek, on land that was once settled and farmed by the Cherokee Nation. During the War of 1812, more than five hundred Cherokee soldiers from the area fought against the British with General Andrew Jackson. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act leading to the Cherokees forced removal from their home and to the infamous 1838 exodus known as the Trail of Tears. In 1847 the Gordon Lee Plantation was established on land once owned by the Cherokee Nation and soon a small town developed near the plantation. In September of 1863 more than 150,000 soldiers from the Federal and Confederate armies met at The Battle of Chickamauga. The Gordon Lee Plantation house was used as a Federal hospital and following the Confederate victory many Federal doctors remained at the hospital to care for their armies wounded soldiers. In 1890 the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, was established on the battlefield’s ground and in 1891 the city of Chickamauga was incorporated. The cities founders named the towns north and south avenues after the Northern and Southern Generals who led the two armies in battle.
In 1916 the town’s high school first opened its doors. The school, Gordon Lee Memorial High School was funded through a grant left to the city by plantation owner, Gordon Lee and was erected on land that was once part of the plantation’s holdings. For fifty years the school provided education to the communities white students. For most of those fifty years segregation was not only the custom in Georgia it was also the law. In 1966 a group of black students marched to the doors of Gordon Lee Memorial High School, requesting admittance. One participant, Delia Clark, who now lives in Nashville recently recalled the incident, “It was peaceful, we did not get into the school, we were sent home but we caused the city system to expand their city limits to include a portion of the black community and they opened the doors for the next school term and admitted blacks”.
More than ninety years after Gordon Lee Memorial High School first opened it’s doors, students of various race and ethnic backgrounds enter the school everyday without incident. Few if any of the school’s current pupils give thought or notice to the group of brave black students who in 1966, marched up to the school’s door with a peaceful purpose in their heart and quietly changed the future of education in Chickamauga Georgia. Today Ms. Clark is admitted freely through any door she encounters as she follows a path of her own choosing in her personal pursuit of happiness.