“Memphis State Eight” honored 60 years after breaking color barrier at what was then called Memphis State University


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – 60 years ago, 4,500 students enrolled in what was then known as Memphis State University. Among them were eight African American students, the first to break the color barrier. They became known as the Memphis State Eight.

Five of the eight are still living and were honored at the university Wednesday night. They include Luther McClellan, Marvis Jones, Ralph Prater, Bertha Looney, and John Simpson. Sammie Johnson, Eleanor Gandy, and Rose Love have died.

Sure they were allowed on campus but only until noon, and the cafeteria and student center were off limits. They overcame fear and uncertainty with a determination to get an education.

University of Memphis President Dr. David Rudd said the university still hasn’t completely closed the gap, and there’s work to do.

Facebook video taken by Valerie Jackson shows she is in a photo with one of the Memphis State Eight, Bertha Looney, who’s also her godmother.

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