Mural to honor historic moment in Memphis integration

Updated: Jan. 16, 2020 at 6:19 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - At a time in their lives when kids just wanted to be kids, a group of first graders known as the “Memphis 13” took the first steps toward integrating Memphis Schools. Now they’re being honored for their heroism.

The students all went to Rozelle, Gordon, Springdale and Bruce elementary schools.

Dwania Kyles was one of three students who went to Bruce Elementary along with Harry Williams and Menelik Fombi -- together, they’re known as the “Bruce 3.”

“It was a traumatic experience,” Kyles said. “October 3, 1961 was the beginning of the undoing of my innocence, and not just my innocence but all of our innocence.”

Kyles says she doesn’t remember much from her first day of school, but she says pictures taken on that historic day tell a very clear story.

Photos on the wall of the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery show Kyles before her first day of school with a big smile on her face walking hand in hand with her mother.

Another picture photographed after school that same day shows the five-year-old with a blank look on her face.

“Look at the difference in how I felt from here to here,” Kyles pointed out. “That’s the beauty of Earnest Withers saying pictures tell the story.”

The Bruce 3 and Memphis 13 forever changed Memphis and Shelby County Schools. Now, decades later Bruce Elementary will honor the Bruce 3 with a mural.

An artist has taken a picture of the trio from their first day and will make it larger than life to be displayed on walls for Bruce Elementary students to see every day.

“Can you imagine now we’re going into a building or an institution that was once was so toxic that is now an energy of love and little children running around looking like you,” Kyles said.

Kyles says viewing this mural is a healing experience for her, and she’s honored to play a major role in Memphis history.

”I’m happy to be healthy enough to enjoy it and be excited about it and participate in it."

The mural will be unveiled Friday at 9 a.m. at Bruce Elementary.

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