In 1922, to alleviate the growing student population in Memphis, a new public high school was constructed in south Memphis. This school was appropriately named South Side High School. The history of South Side is multifaceted. South Side High School was organized as a public high school and was originally located on Richmond Avenue as part of the Memphis City School System.
In 1961, thirteen first graders integrated the Memphis City School System. This was seven years after the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision where the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Whites began to abandon neighborhoods so their children would not have to attend schools with blacks. White Flight from city schools was ongoing for approximately 10 years. Also in 1961, a newer South Side High School was built at 1880 Prospect Avenue. It was determined that a “better equipped” building was needed to house the students attending South Side.
While the original South Side had been deemed “ill equipped,” the all white Memphis City School Board set this building aside to house junior high school students. This school was named Lincoln Junior High School, probably because it was an extension of Lincoln Elementary School. Seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students attended this school along with sixth graders from Lincoln Elementary. It was no surprise that blacks would be relegated to the old South Side building, which was in disrepair and where evidence of old, overused textbooks were present in most classrooms. There was, however, one perk that came with the Richmond Avenue building….We got South Side Park.
In 1966, most of the ninth graders from Lincoln Junior High School were assigned to 10th grade at South Side High School or Booker T. Washington High School. Lincoln Junior High School became the main feeder school to integrate South Side. Students from other schools began to help transform the racial make up of South Side High School. Students from Longview and many others migrated to the halls of South Side, including Glenn Hancock, Sr. and Tunya Phillips Brownlee from Carver Junior High, Deborah Mack Sykes and Diana S. Young Glover from Corry Junior High, Kathy Brown Matthews from Fort Knox High School, Jerome Payne from Manassas High School and Vivian Ray Donelson from Porter Junior High. These students and many others were part of the history making changes in our society. This was done to assure a better life for people of color and all races.
Students from Lincoln were prepared to handle their business—uneasy, but prepared. Part of the uneasiness stemmed from the fact that we had never had any involvement with white students. We didn’t have self-esteem problems. Our parents had educated us about how we were as smart as white people. At Lincoln Junior High, there were excellent administrators and teachers like Oliver J. Johnson, Horace King, Marion Cole, Rosetta Beasley, Margaret Strong, Kenneth Cole, Wallace Wilburn, Dave Bond, Joyce Blackmon, Hattie Swearengen Tuggle, Viola O’Neal, Paul Meacham and Laverne Joyner. What they poured into us prepared us.
It did not matter where students came from, when we started our coursework at South Side; most of us were serious and ready. We made many new friends, but we held close to the friends who had made the journey over with us. We were excited to learn that several teachers from Lincoln Junior High would join us at South Side as well. Some students learned two new four-letter words—Work Hard! Competing at South Side was not difficult. Students were challenged academically and excelled. There were also many sports statistics challenges as our athletic department set new records.
There was one thing for which we were not prepared. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Although there was wide spread looting and burning, South Side students stayed focused.
Having completed all of the requirements for the high school coursework, students were ready to graduate. May 23, 1969 was the forty-fourth annual commencement of South Side High School. The graduation took place in the Music Hall of the Ellis Auditorium. Vivian Ray, Class Valedictorian and Faculty Representative, spoke on education. Dewey Sykes narrated “I Am An American” for the choir. Principal Bennet E. Hunter, III. Presented scholarships and awards. Director of Secondary Education, Joe Warwick, presented the class of 1969 with their diplomas.
Student Council Officers were: James Robinson, President; Gloria Haley, Vice President; Joyce Hudson, Secretary; and Charles Livingston, Jr., Treasurer.
The old “ill equipped” South Side High School building (Richmond Avenue) operated as Lincoln Junior High School for 27 years. Lincoln Junior High was closed in 1989 and demolished around 2001. In 2007, South Side (Prospect Avenue) became the site of a specialized school, South Side Health Career Academy. South Side High School closed in 2008.