Gordon School: An Episode from Memphis, Part II

Two of the Memphis 13, and Four Periods of Desegregation in the Shelby County School System


By Sophia Mason

Gordon School: An Episode from Memphis illustrates four periods of desegregation in the Shelby County School system, starting in 1961, the year that saw thirteen first-graders integrate 3 schools in Memphis – Bruce Elementary, Rozelle School, and Gordon Elementary – who became known as the Memphis 13. The comic book follows Sheila Malone Conway and her twin sister Sharon Malone (who live in the 38107 zip code today), two of four first-graders to initially desegregate Gordon Elementary, and their first day at school. The story then follows the Black Monday protests that occurred later, the busing controversy – paralleling integration successes all over the country – and the current state of visible segregation we are in again today.

Gordon School is presented here in two parts. Click here for Part I

Part II: “Black Mondays”


To protest the all-white school board leading a district that was predominately African American, civil rights workers in Memphis organized “Black Mondays.”

These were school boycotts where African American children stayed out of school on Mondays. On a peak Monday, 67,000 students and 674 teachers took part.

The boycotts spread to include downtown merchants and other points of segregation in the community.

On the first Monday of November, participation in the protest saw almost 2,000 city employees walk off their jobs and all Black insurance companies and several Black businesses closed their doors, joining about 68,000 students, 561 teachers, and 900 cafeteria workers.

On November 16, 1969, two non-voting African Americans were appointed to the school board along with a Black assistant superintendent and Black coordinator, ending the boycotts.


In early 1973, Memphis City Schools began court-ordered busing to integrate once legally-segregated schools. On January 22, 1973, in the dead of winter, the buses rolled down the streets of Memphis for the first time.

Epilogue: The Closing of the Gordon School

Schools in Memphis continue to operate as segregated and unequal communities. “It takes planning and coordination among parties with disparate interests to move a city forward sensibly and peacefully.” (Daniel Kiel, “Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools Community,” Law and Inequality 26 (2008), page 302)

Gordon School is presented here in two parts. Click here for Part I

Sophia Mason is an artist residing in Midtown. She makes art about her religious experience and keeps a blog at sophiamasonart.wordpress.com.

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