The Memphis 13 Foundation partnered with Memphis-Shelby County Schools to commemorate the 61st year of the desegregation of Memphis City Public Schools by the Memphis 13 with a Meet the Artist & Mural Kickoff commemorative event on Oct. 3, 2022.
The event honored the “Springdale 2” – Jacqueline Moore-Christion and the late Deborah Ann Holt (represented by her daughter Andrea Payne-Johnson) – who attended Springdale Elementary on that crucial first day of school in 1961.
“I found out that they were going to do murals in our honor, and I just started crying. I was so happy,” said Moore-Christion.
Led by principal Carmen Gregory, Springdale Elementary is a State of Tennessee Reward School and was one of four schools in Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) to earn a perfect accountability rating of 4.0.
The Memphis 13 was the group of young children who desegregated four schools in Memphis on October 3, 1961. Thirteen African-American first grade students enrolled in schools that were previously all white.
The students attended Bruce Elementary (Dwania Kyles, Harry Williams, Michael Willis); Gordon Elementary (Alvin Freeman, Sharon Malone, Sheila Malone, Pamela Mayes); Rozelle Elementary (Joyce Bell, E.C. Freeman, Leandrew Wiggins, Clarence Williams); Springdale Elementary (Deborah Ann Holt; Jacqueline Moore-Christion).
Later, they became known as the smallest civil rights pioneers.
John DeBerry, senior advisor to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, along with State Representative G.A. Hardaway of District 93 participated in the program, which ended with a prayer by DeBerry blessing the mural site.
Additional program participants included MSCS Interim Supt. Tutonial “Toni” Williams; the Rev. Dr. Althea Greene, MSCS Board Chair; and MSCS District 1 Board Member Michelle McKissack.
Attendees screened “The Memphis 13” documentary created and directed by University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel.
“It’s a story that isn’t stuck in 1961. It continues to unfold in our communities and in our schools in different ways,” said Kiel.”
Attendees also participated in a Q&A with The Memphis 13 panel and heard from the mural artist, Jamond Bullock.
“These 13 first graders embodied courage and had to have such thick skin during a time when they were entering into a school that may have not wanted them,” said Bullock.
Bullock was commissioned by MSCS to create murals honoring the Memphis l3 at Springdale Elementary, Rozelle Elementary, and Gordon Achievement Academy.
The artist’s first murals were revealed at Bruce Elementary in January 2020. Bruce Elementary School principal emeritus Dr. Archie Moss commissioned Bullock to complete the extraordinary murals sponsored by ServiceMaster in the school’s all-purpose room. The mural features the “Bruce 3” – Kyles, Willis and Williams, the pioneering students who attended Bruce in 1961.
The Memphis 13 Foundation has partnered with MSCS, the U of M, and the U.S. Library of Congress under the leadership of University of Memphis professors Dr. Gina Tillis and Dr. Anna Falkner to collectively develop a curriculum unit and professional development workshop series that honors the life and legacy of The Memphis 13.
The Memphis 13 was honored with a House Joint Resolution on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville on March 3, 2022. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Hardaway.
The documentary is available to view at no cost on the website. The Memphis 13 Foundation encourages a donation of $61 in celebration of the 61st year commemorating the courage and sacrifice that 5- and 6-year-old boys and girls made 61 years ago.
The documentary and donation opportunities are available at www.thememphis13.com.