Anderson County has been in the national spotlight several times since the Civil War.
In August 1956, Clinton High School became the first public high school in the south to desegregate (which means it was the first high school attended by both white and black students).
Prior to that time, white and black southerners were required to go to separate schools. The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education wouId eventually cause public schools to integrate. Clinton High School happened to be the first high school in the South to do so because of a lawsuit that had been filed a few years earlier.
Twelve African-American students who lived in Clinton (but would have otherwise attended Austin High School in Knoxville) enrolled at Clinton High School in the summer of 1956. "I had no say in the matter," says Bobby Cain, who was one of the two seniors in the group. "My parents told me that I had to go to Clinton High, and I did."
At the 2017 Tennessee History for Kids tent revival, Cain pointed out that it wasn't easy. "I didn't make any friends among the white students," he said. "And to be honest if any of the white students had tried to make friends with us, I think they would have been beaten up. It was just a tough year to make friends."
Protesters greeted the 12 black students for most of that year. Governor Frank Clement of Tennessee sent in about 100 state troopers to restore order, which is one of the reasons that the situation in Clinton did not escalate.
In the spring of 1957, Cain became the first African-American student to graduate from a desegregated high school in the South.
Long before desegregation, Anderson County was known for coal mining. In the 1880s and 1890s, communities such as Coal Creek and Briceville became nationally famous because of a series of events known as the "Coal Creek War."
The Coal Creek War occurred because companies which mined coal in places such as Anderson and Grundy Counties tried to make more money by replacing free coal miners with state prisoners under an agreement with the state of Tennessee. Free coal miners didn't want to lose their jobs. They fought back, attacking the stockades in which the prisoners were housed and on more than one occasion setting them free.
The saga went back and forth for years until free coal miners finally won back their jobs.
Today a non-profit organization known at the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation helps students and teachers remember the saga and its connections to American history (such as to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). The Coal Creek Watershed Foundation also reminds us about the horrible mining explosions in 1902 and 1911 which killed hundreds of men.
Finally, Anderson County's largest city is Oak Ridge--a city with a very unusual history. Oak Ridge did not exist prior to World War II. During the Second World War, the federal government created Oak Ridge as a "secret city" to help develop uranium for the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Japan.
Click here to take a virtual tour of the American Museum of Science and Energy and learn more about Oak Ridge.
Here is a photo of the Anderson County Courthouse.