MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – On a fall day, 58 years ago,13 brave first graders walked into four Memphis schools to integrate them forthe first time.
Harry Williams, Dwania Kyles, and Menelik Fombi, known as the‘Bruce 3’, integrated Bruce Elementary in 1961. Friday, they were celebratedand immortalized at the school where they made history.
“This is amazing y’all. This is a lot. It’s so big!”Kyles said after seeing her once-young self towering over the Bruce Elementary gym.
The photo of her was of the first day she, Williams, and Fombiwalked into the school. She said seeing herself was overwhelming, but it washealing, too.
“When I first looked at it, it really is heart-wrenching,”she said. “It’s to know that now when the children walk the halls,children that look like me walk these halls, they’re walking in an energy thatis full of love.”
That love isn’t what Kyles, Williams, or Fombi felt in their timeat Bruce, but they certainly felt the love Friday morning. The three were celebrated in a full room, with tributestudent performances of singing, step, and dancing.
“It’s beautiful. I’m proud to be here and I’m very humbled. Andas we said, it was painful. Very hard,” Fombi said. “It is a reminder of the things the way they were,but it is also a positive reinforcement about where we’re going. Thepotential.”
Bruce Principal Archie Moss said they wanted to accomplish thisfor the ‘Bruce 3’ for years and to get to Friday morning was an emotionalexperience. He hopes the students will see themselves in the work.
“These were three brave first grade scholars who entered an all-whiteschool where they were not loved. And now they have the opportunity, they havethe privilege to enter a space where they are loved, where they are deeplyknown. They are seen and heard and that is powerful,” Moss said.
The murals were completed by local artist Jamond Bullock andsponsored by ServiceMaster.