“My dad says that’s the beginnin’ of the end. That a half century of higher education at Memphis State will come crashin’ down because of them.” Betty said out of nowhere.
We were sitting on a bench between classes and I was too busy cramming for a French test to understand what she was referring to.
But then I saw them and I understood what had prompted the outburst.
Eight well dressed negroes around our age cut a path through the quad, flanked by plainclothes members of the Memphis police. Conversations fell to silence as they passed, everyone stared. They were the Memphis State Eight, the first black students ever admitted to the university.
“He says that race mixing is going to force the faculty to dumb down the curriculum ‘til everybody comin’ out of here is no smarter than a gnat.”
“I’ve got a class with them.” I said sharply. “They’re smarter than most of the whites in the class, me included. From what I can tell, they just want to be like any other student.”
She humphed and looked away.
“Also, Betty? Your dad’s a racist idiot.” I gathered my books and stood up. “Don’t be one, too.”
The Memphis State Eight were admitted in 1959, five years after Brown vs Board of Education struck down segregation. Fearing an incident, the university forbid them to go anywhere on campus but their classes. They weren’t even allowed to eat in the cafeteria. But, every year after more and more black students were admitted, until no one even noticed the original eight any more.