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A day of reflection and reckoning: Celebrating the ‘Memphis 13’ with a symbolic mural unveiling

Emotions and remembrances recently permeated the day at Gordon Achievement Academy, where gatherers convened to honor the enduring legacy of the ‘Memphis 13’ and particularly the ‘Gordon 4,’ who desegregated Memphis City Schools 62 years ago on October 3, 1961.

Three of the formidable “Gordon 4” – Sharon Malone, Sheila Malone-Conway and Alvin Freeman – stood tall. Pamela Evans did not attend.

Three members of the “Gordon 4” — Alvin Freeman, Sheila Malone-Conway and Sharon Malone. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender.)

Other luminaries on hand and who provided tangible connections to the historic period included Dwania Kyles, Leandrew Wiggins and Jacqueline Moore.

Ekpe Abioto’s African drum music and storytelling wove a harmonious bridge between history and today.

Edu-tainer Ekpe Abioto. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

A standout moment was when Abusheri Ohwofasa, the dynamic vice president of Community Engagement and executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, recollected her awe-struck feelings upon meeting members of the Memphis 13 during a Grizzlies’ service project.

“We will continue to support the Memphis 13 and we look forward to our partnership,” said Ohwofasa.

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari added depth by sharing her personal connection to the past, highlighting her mother’s birth in a segregated hospital and her own education during the bussing era. Her poignant reflections underscored the significance of the Memphis 13’s sacrifices, emphasizing the importance of teaching future generations about the young heroes.

Stirring words from Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon anchored the day’s sentiments. Sugarmon is the son of the late Judge Russell Sugarmon, who escorted the “Gordon 4” to school on that historic day in 1961.

Sugarmon delineated the legal battles led by luminaries such as Charles Hamilton Houston, who cleverly dismantled the facade of “separate but equal,” setting the stage for desegregation.

“Keep in mind our history and our accomplishments, but remember the lives sacrificed,” said Sugarmon. “Let’s not see history repeated,” resonated deeply.

Contributions from Michelle McKissick, as a former Memphis-Shelby County School Board chairperson, were spotlighted, as was the support from the current chairperson, the Rev. Althea Green.

The event was punctuated by a soulful rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Trenton Moore and Bernita Moore. Additionally, Daniel Kiel, the director of the “Memphis 13” documentary and a law professor at the University of Memphis, introduced the film’s gripping trailer.



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