“How do you really teach
students about what happened on April 4th in 1968?” said Houston
High School teacher Traci Spain. With
the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights
hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., GMSD alongside other schools in the City of
Memphis saw this as a chance for collaboration.
“I’ve been thinking about different and meaningful ways to work on
projects with the [Student Government] teacher sponsor at Central High School
in the heart of the city,” shared Spain, “and it seems like this was the
On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was
assassinated mere minutes down the road from Germantown on the balcony of the
To provide context, Spain, with help from other
teacher organizers, arranged a special guest speaker at this year’s annual
student leadership conference. The conference was heavily attended, and
students reported feeling very moved by this guest speaker, Dr. James LaVirt
Netters, Sr. In 1963, Dr. Netters began
teaching in the Memphis City Schools. It was during that time that he became
active in the civil rights movement, traveled to Washington D.C., and sat on
stage as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It was quite something to have someone who was
there—who experienced the famous speech—talking to us. It made things much more real,” said student
government student Abi Crigler.
In 1964, Dr. Netters and six others were
arrested during the bus sit-in demonstrations. Their bold effort was successful
at having buses in the city integrated weeks later.
“Netters labored intensely through much of his life to guarantee a
better future for the very students he was speaking to and that fact resonated
strongly,” shared Crigler.
“This was such an impactful lesson to our
students, because seven is a small number of people that made a huge
difference,” said Spain. To parallel the
idea of a small group Houston High sent seven students to the commemorative I Am A Man March on February 11th
to represent the school. “Houston High
School, was very proud to participate in this momentous occasion,” said Spain.
The I Am A Man march, a part
of the 1968 sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis, was pivotal in both
city and national history, and the event was designed to specifically
commemorate that, as well as transport young people there to a time and
struggle less familiar.
Each student was given a replica of the famous I Am A Man poster and marched around Mississippi Boulevard Church,
singing freedom spirituals and shouting the historical chant, for over two
"I decided to go because I wanted to enlighten myself more on the
African American struggle. I will never experience the same pain, but I thought
it was important to educate myself about it," said senior Courtney
Noisette regarding her experience, “This event is so important for students
because it forces us to realize how privileged we are. It made me more
appreciative for what I'm able to do, especially as an African American, in
today's society. The sacrifices people took during the civil rights movement
are worth honoring and talking about with people.”
Moving forward, the Student Government Association is working on
special plans to share some of their experiences with the study body during the
week of April 4th with special announcements and video messages
created by the students.