See how HHS students honored the legacy of Martin Luther King for MLK50

“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 perfect opportunity”. 

On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated mere minutes down the road from Germantown on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

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 hours.

"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.

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