‘Memphis State 8′ brings in thousands of Black students to UofM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The University of Memphis is a thriving institution.

Giving all students regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity an opportunity for higher education.

But when you turn back the hands of time you learn that was not always the case.

Wig HR brave African American students took a leap of faith in integrating the school.

“They just ignored me, which was fine with me. I did not mind being ignored,” said Luther McClellan, Memphis State 8.

Ostracized, overlooked, rejected. Eight African American students endured such treatment for one reason, equality.

“None of the accommodations for blacks in the South were equal to the white accommodations,” said McClellan.

So, when Luther McClelan, at the time a student at Lemoyne-Owen College, learned Memphis State University was accepting black students, he applied and was accepted.

“Two weeks later, I saw it on the news, eight students. I said only eight? I expected to see 50 to 100,” said McClellan.

Luther McClellan, Bertha Rogers Looney, Ralph Prater, Eleanor Gandy, Marvis Kneeland Jones, Rose Blakney- Love, John Simpson and Sammie Burnett-Johnson stepped on campus on Sep, 18, 1959.

Those eight came to be known as the Memphis State 8.

“Most things that were hostile with the other students, were the name calling.

And I learned to walk past them like I did not hear them. And looking over my shoulder when I was being attacked by rocks,” said Bertha Rogers Looney, Memphis State 8.

Bertha Rogers Looney said while at Memphis State, she and other students could only be on campus from 8:00 a.m. until noon.

They could not go to the library without supervision and could not go to the gym.

“At the time I thought, this is something that would be forgotten. I never thought in the years to come we would open the doors for so many people. I am proud of those who come through here and done so well,” said Looney.

The next year, Rogers Looney said other African American students joined them.

Today, of the more than 13,000 students enrolled at the University of Memphis as of Fall 2022, 34% are black.

Rogers Looney, proud she and seven other courageous students first step on campus.

Opened the door for thousands of African Americans to step on campus and leave with degrees.

“When we think we have failed, many times what had been failures to those who come first. Are seeds of victory for those who follow us,” said Looney. McClellan was the first African American student to graduate from U of M. McClellan and Rogers Looney are the only two Memphis State 8 students living.