In the fall of 1959 some 4,500 students enrolled at Memphis State University. Among them were eight African Americans, the first to break the University's color barrier. They were Bertha Mae Rogers (Looney), Rose Blakney (Love) and Marvis Kneeland (Jones), graduates of Hamilton High School; Luther McClellan and John Simpson from Manasssas High School; Ralph Prater and Eleanor Gandy from Douglas High School; and Sammie Burnett (Johnson) from Booker T. Washington High School. They became known as the "Memphis State Eight." Once on campus they were asked to avoid the cafeteria and student center. They were barred from taking physical education classes and ROTC. Police escorted them to their classes, all of which were scheduled for morning. The Eight were
required to leave the campus by noon. The University set aside special restrooms and lounges for them. Unlike at other schools, the Memphis Eight met with no physical violence. They were taunted by hecklers carrying Confederate flags. Most experienced a sense of isolation and sadness for having missed out on the youthful experiences and social functions enjoyed by other college students. Nevertheless, the Memphis State Eight persevered. These pioneers set Memphis State-now The University of Memphis-on a new path of equality, fairness and acceptance that has remained a hallmark of the University. In 2009 the University presented the Memphis State Eight with the Arthur S. Holman Lifetime Achievement Award.