The Memphis 13
In October 1961, thirteen African American first graders took courageous steps to
enter four formerly all-white elementary schools to break the practice of segregation
in Memphis City Schools. A half-century later, the stories of these pioneering children
form the foundation of the documentary, The Memphis 13 (2011). The film uncovers a
hidden story of the Civil Rights Movement and honors the children who lived it while
raising contemporary questions about children breaking barriers.
The film, which was initiated thanks to a faculty research grant from the Hooks Institute, features interviews with all thirteen pioneering families, as well as with white students, a teacher, and local civil rights leaders.
First grade can be a scary thing, even without the burden of making history.
University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel is the writer and director of The Memphis 13. Filmmakers Jane Folk and David Kiern served as producers. The film is narrated by Mayor A.C. Wharton of Memphis and premiered at the National Civil Rights Museum on the 50th anniversary of the students' historic steps. The film has screened for audiences locally and across the country, including being selected for the Little Rock Civil Rights Film Festival and San Diego Black Film Festival and being featured in programs at Harvard Law School, Howard Law School, and other academic institutions.
Additional support for the film was provided by First Horizon and the Assisi Foundation of Memphis.