The first African-American students to enroll in Rozelle Elementary School were E.C. Freeman, Joyce Bell, Clarence Williams, and Leandrew Wiggens. Mattie Freeman, mother of E.C. Freemanm, said, "It would be foolish to send my little 6-year-old 3 miles away [to school] when there was one a block away." Joyce Bell White noted that when her classmate E.C. Freeman Fentress died in 2010: "In her obituary, it [her role as one of the Memphis 13' wasn't even mentioned." Leandrew Wiggens remembered the pressure. "It got overwhelming to me. So I begged my Mom. Eventually my parents took me out. If I was scared, they were scared." Clarence Williams recalled his father's viewpoint/ "He thought I would get a better education at Rozelle, get more out of life." Also to be remembered are the dedicated parents of these students: Mattie Freeman, Bettie Marie Bell, Edward Williams, and Woodrow Williamson.
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.