Congressman Steve Cohen Honors the Memphis 13

Thanks to Congressman Steve Cohen for his remarks in the Congressional Record honoring the Memphis 13 and their families! As we near the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, what a wonderful time to remember the courage of these individuals from a time when they were only 5- and 6-years old.

Check out the full text of Congressman Cohen’s remarks below…


HON. STEVE COHEN of Tennessee

In the House of Representatives

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor 13 individuals who broke the barrier of segregation in the Memphis City Schools on October 3, 1961. Formally known as the “Memphis 13,” these trailblazers of integration were the first African-American students to be enrolled in the all-white Memphis City Schools system at a time when institutional desegregation was widely criticized. The challenges and accomplishments of these courageous Memphians have been recognized across the country thanks to the work of University of Memphis Law Professor Daniel Kiel in his 2011 documentary, “The Memphis 13.”

Almost 53 years ago, 13 first-grade students bravely entered the doors of Bruce, Gordon, Rozelle and Springdale Elementary Schools. These students, Sheila Malone Conway, E.C. Freeman Fentress, Alvin Freeman, Deborah Holt, Dwania Kyles, Sharon Malone, Pamela Mayes, Jacqueline Moore, Joyce Bell White, Leandrew Wiggins, Clarence Williams, Harry Williams and Michael Willis (Menelik Fombi), were some of America’s bravest civil rights’ activists, even at such young ages. At a time when the nation was witnessing widespread segregation and animosity towards African-Americans who desired equal opportunities, these young civil rights leaders and their families made a choice to take a step towards equality for all.

Before the momentous actions of the “Memphis 13,” Memphis City Schools had never before afforded African-American students the opportunity to receive a fair and full education. This pioneering instance of school integration went forth with little public discussion or advanced news attention. Because of the heartfelt work of Professor Daniel Kiel and his documentary, the stories of these children, who dared to receive an equal education in a desegregated school system, are now being heard by communities throughout the country.

As a strong believer in the importance of education, I cannot thank enough the “Memphis 13” for blazing the trail for other African- American students to receive the education they deserve and Daniel Kiel for telling their story. The selfless actions by the “Memphis 13” paved a way for students to receive an equal education in Memphis and across the nation. The difference that these legends made will always be remembered and celebrated by the city of Memphis. I ask all of my colleagues to join me in honoring the “Memphis 13.”