2 members of Memphis 13 honored with mural outside former elementary school

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Over 60 years ago, 13 Black children made history right here in the Bluff City.

On Friday, two were honored outside of their former elementary school.

They were known as the Memphis 13, a group of six-year-olds who desegregated four all-white schools in Memphis in 1961.

Jacqueline Christion remembers the day people approached her door with the opportunity.

“I ran to the door and told my mom and daddy; there’s somebody out here [who] want you. So, my mama didn’t want it. She was scared, but my daddy said, ‘No this is [an] opportunity, and we’re going to take this opportunity.’” she said.

With a police escort on the first day of school, Christion recalls being terrified, but excited.

When she entered the classroom, she was amazed at how nice the desks and books were compared to her last school.

But the biggest shock to her was how clean the school was.

She wasn’t alone, alongside her was Deborah Holt-Payne, another Black girl.

But being Black wasn’t the only challenge they faced that day.

“The stuff that we was doing at Hyde Park, they was way way ahead of that,” Christion said. “So to be from there to here, it was amazing.”

Over 60 years later... a mural being unveiled in their honor is something she never saw coming.

Holt-Payne passed away in 2017 and was unable to see her face on her former elementary school, but her daughter, Andrea Payne-Johnson, tells us what she would have said today:

“The work is good, but it’s not done. It’s just beginning.”

A documentary about the Memphis 13 created by a Memphis law professor is available now.

For more info about the Memphis 13 documentary, to schedule an event with the Memphis 13, or to make a donation to the Memphis 13 Foundation, please visit www.thememphis13.com.

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