(WMC-TV) – The first eight African-Americans to enroll at the University of Memphis back in 1959 were recognized Tuesday.
Known as the Memphis State Eight, the students broke color barriers on the campus of 4,500 white students.
John Simpson was among the eight students who braved adversity and says he was intimidated, not by the white students, but by his fellow African-American peers.
"I know of them and most of them were stars in high school," said John Simpson. "I didn't know that I had it in me to measure up as well as they were."
Proclamations were presented declaring September 18 as Memphis State Eight Day. Both the city and county mayors were in attendance for the unveiling of the historical marker.
"And while we memorialize soldiers and warriors, for some reason we had not yet memorialized these soldiers and these warriors," said Mayor A C Wharton.
In addition to Simpson, the group honored included Bertha Rogers Looney, Eleanor Gandy, Marvis LaVerne Kneeland Jones, Rose Blakney-Love, Luther McClellan, and Ralph Prater.
Seven of the surviving eight were in attendance.
Simpson says he hopes current students will uphold a new legacy of acceptance and equality for all.
"Keep in mind that what you learn today is a life lesson that is going to last them the rest of their careers," said Simpson.
"It's just so significant that we show them that we really honor what they've done to not only make this university better but this state and this region as a whole," said Mayor Wharton.