Fifty years ago, 13 African-American first graders took courageous steps to enter four formerly all-white elementary schools and break the practice of segregation in the Memphis City Schools.
Fifty years ago, 13 African-American first graders took courageous steps to enter four formerly all-white elementary schools and break the practice of segregation in the Memphis City Schools. A half century later, their story is being told with the broadcast premiere of a new local documentary film, “The Memphis 13.”
WKNO will air the film on Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 10.
“The Memphis 13” features interviews with all thirteen pioneering families, as well as white students, a teacher, and civil rights movement leadership. Although each interviewee’s experience was unique, the film presents several common themes: the contrast of normal students trying to have a normal schooling experience amidst an extraordinary moment; the isolation of the children at the forefront of this social change; the angst of parents deciding whether to undertake the risk of sending their children to the first desegregated schools.
Narrated by Mayor A C Wharton Jr., “The Memphis 13” made its public premiere on Oct. 3, 2011, 50 years to the day after the thirteen students first entered all-white schools, at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Daniel Kiel, the film’s director, writer, and executive producer, is a law professor at The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. He has written extensively on race in education in Memphis and elsewhere. Kiel is a native Memphian and a graduate of Memphis City Schools; he has a degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin and his law degree from Harvard Law School. Kiel worked with local filmmaker Jane Folk (Producer, Director of Cinematography, who also produced “Pork Chop Day,” which aired on WKNO) and David Kiern (producer, editor, co-writer) to produce “The Memphis 13.”
Kiel received a grant from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute of Social Change to collect oral histories of individuals involved in the initial Memphis City Schools desegregation in 1961. Further support was provided by First Tennessee and The Assisi Foundation of Memphis. Working with local filmmaker Folk, Kiel compiled 21 interviews that are collected in the documentary.
“The Memphis 13” airs Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 18 at 2:30 p.m.; and Feb. 19 at noon on WKNO/Channel 10. It also airs Feb. 18 at 9:30 p.m. on WKNO2, available over the air on Channel 10.2 and on Comcast Cable Channel 910.
(For more information: wkno.org.)