The first African-American students to enroll in Bruce Elementary were Dwania Kyles, Menelik Fombi (formerly Michael Willis), and Harry Williams. All lived closer to Bruce than to the African-American school where they would other wise have been assigned. Dwania Kyles remembered the social isolation at school and how she relied on friends in her neighborhod church for support. "It was just the constant barrage of negativity," Menelik Fombi recalled. "One on one you may be OK with a boy. You get two or three of his friends and your a n____. The whole group dynamic would change." Harry Williams remembered his motivation to break the segregation barrier. "I didn't want to be no wimp," he said. "I had my little pride back then." He also recalls a diligent principal. "She made sure we were safe." Also to be remembered are the dedicated parents of these students: Samuel B. Kyles, A.W. Willis, and Romanita Morris.
In implementing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision outlawing school segregation by race, the Memphis Board of Education ultimately agreed in 1961 to a plan to integrate the schools. The Memphis Branch of the NAACP recruited 200 applicants, and 13 African-American first graders were selected to integrate four elementary schools. This phased-in approach, adding a grade per year, was regarded as the safest way to desegregate the schools. Without violence on October 3, 1961, the students enrolled in Bruce, Gordon, Rozelle, and Springdale Elementary schools. After opening day they were on their own. During the course of the year and those that followed, their social isolation and educational progress were left unmonitored. Despite their difficulties, these 13 "pint-sized pioneers" struck a fatal blow to school segregation and claimed their place in Memphis history.