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1. Lucie E. Campbell
Lucie Campbell was the first African American female gospel music composer. She was also a singer, mentor, educator, and activist. Born in 1890 in Duck Hill, Mississippi Lucie Campbell spent most of her life in Memphis. She graduated from Kortrecht High School (now Booker T. Washington), received her bachelor's from Rust College, and her master's from Tennessee State University. Campbell become a teacher after graduating high school, but it was in 1911 that she would start her journey as a teacher at her former high school teaching history and English for over forty years. During her career, Campbell was elected as vice president of the American Teachers Association, president of the Tennessee Teachers Association, and organized a thousand voice choir. She was also one of the nine founders of the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress and became its music director. As the music director, Campbell auditioned musicians such as Marian Anderson, J. Robert Bradley, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Mahalia Jackson. In her lifetime she would publish more than one hundred compositions. Lucie E. Campbell Elementary School in Memphis, TN is named in her honor.
Historic Black Memphis p.17
2. Benjamin Hooks
Civil Rights activist Benjamin L. Hooks was born in Memphis, TN on January 31, 1925. A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, Hooks would obtain his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University in Chicago. Hooks would return to Memphis after law school to start his own practice and help organize the Tennessee Voters Council. He would go on to become the first African American Criminal Court Judge in Shelby County and in 1982 Hooks increased voter registration for the NAACP to 850,000. In 1996 he Founded the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis and in 2005, The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library was named after him. In 2007 Dr. Benjamin Hooks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This man put in so much work during his lifetime that this is just a very small summary of his legacy.
3. Robert R. Church Sr.
The south’s first black millionaire, Robert R. Church was a Memphis businessman, community activist, political leader, and philanthropist responsible for rescuing Memphis after the yellow fever epidemic of 1873. Basically destroyed by yellow fever, Memphis had lost its charter but it would be a $1,000 bond bought by Robert R. Church that would restore the city's charter. Born in Holly Springs, MS as an enslaved person to mother Emmeline in 1839, Church would start out as a cabin boy (later a steward) on the steamboat of his white father, Charles B. Church of Memphis. Church fled to Memphis in 1862 due to his boat being captured during the Battle of Memphis. Shortly after he arrives in Memphis, Robert would start his journey as a businessman by opening a Saloon on Main Street and Gayoso. Robert R. Church dedicated sixty-plus years of his life to the bettering of Memphis. He purchased land on Beale Street so that there could be a park and auditorium for the black community during a time when we were forbidden to use the recreational facilities within the city. The auditorium included a 2,000 seating capacity making it the largest black-owned theatre in the world. Church also owned a hotel and was the founder and first president of the solvent savings bank and trust company. The bank quickly became the largest black-owned bank in Tennessee and the third-largest in the country. In 1908 he paid off creditors to prevent them from seizing Beale Street Baptist Church. You would think a man responsible for a city's survival would be highlighted a little more but hopefully, this blog will help spread the word about him more.
Historic Black Memphians Pg. 7
4. Robert R. Church Jr.
Following in his father’s footsteps but having a much more successful political career
Robert R. Church Jr. attended Morgan Park Military Academy in Illinois, Oberlin College in Ohio, and the Packard School of Business in New York. He also went through two years of training in banking on Wall Street. One of his first jobs was managing Church Park and Auditorium on Beale Street. He was a cashier of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company and founded and financed the Lincoln League in Memphis in 1916. The League would plan voter registration drives and pay poll taxes for African American voters. They went on to register more than ten thousand voters. In 1917 Church orchestrated Tennessee's first branch of the NAACP in Memphis, TN and just two years later he was elected to the national board of directors. Church was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Historic Black Memphian pg. 5
5. Mary Church Terrell
Daughter of Robert R. Church Sr. and Louisa Ayres Church, Mary Church Terrell was an African American activist, teacher, and author born in Memphis, TN in 1863.
One of the first black women to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, Mary founded the Colored Women's League in 1892. She founded this organization so that she could help provided assistance to women of color, this assistance included night classes would be available for women, childcare could be provided for working mothers, and more. In 1895 she was the first black woman appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education and in 1896 Mary Church Terrell helped found the National Association of Colored Women. She was selected as the first president of the organization and would remain in that role from 1896 to 1901. In 1909, Terrell was a founder and charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and would go on to published her own autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World in 1940. Her list of accomplishments and involvement go on into the 1950s. Mary Church Terrell would leave this world still fighting against segregation, discrimination, and for women's rights!
6. First Memphis Black Public School(s)
So y’all this was probably the hardest fact to follow and understand. Schools went through a lot of different changes and record keeping wasn’t the easiest, but I am going to do my best to give some history! Just know that the first set of schools for black students were Booker T. Washington, Manassas High, Melrose, and the Howe Institute (Now Lemoyne-Owen College). It is believed that the first school for black students was called the Freedmen’s School and was opened in 1863. However, in 1866 all black schools and churches would be burned down during the race massacre. Clay Street school would be Memphis’ first black public school on record, it was a brick building and built in 1873. Shortly after Clay Street opened it would be changed to Kotrecht Grammar School and in 1891 Kortrecht Grammar School changed to Kortrecht High School. In 1911 Kortrecht High School (the city’s only black public high school) would end up moving into another building but keeping the previous building so that Kotrecht Grammar School could reopen. In 1926 Kortrecht High School become what is now Booker T. Washington. Manassas would be established in 1899 and Melrose in 1890. The Howe institute was a private institution for African Americans that was established in 1888. T. O Fuller would be named principal of the Howe Institute in 1902.
7. Willie W. Herenton
Now, technically J.O Patterson Jr. was appointed the interim Mayor of Memphis in 1982 making him our first black mayor but in 1991 Memphis would have its first ELECTED black mayor. Born in 1940 in South Memphis, TN Willie W. Herenton embarked on a journey that would prepare him for his career in education and politics. He graduated from LeMoyne-Owen College with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, from the University of Memphis with a Master’s in educational administration and a doctorate in education at Southern Illinois University. Before becoming the mayor Herenton was teacher and at the age of 28 he became the youngest principal in Memphis. In 1979 he was the super intendent of Memphis public schools and in 1991 was elected as the first African American mayor of Memphis. Dr. Willie W. Herenton would go on to be elected for four consecutive terms as mayor and named as Municipal Leader of the Year by The American City & County magazine in 2002.
8. The Memphis 13
Although the supreme court case Brown v. Board of Education would desegregate schools in 1954 it wasn’t until October of 1961 that Memphis City Schools gained its first group of African American students. With assistance from the NAACP thirteen first graders, Dwania Kyles, Harry Williams, Michael Willis, Alvin Freeman, Sharon Malone, Sheila Malone, Pamela Mayes, Joyce Bell, E.C. Freeman, Leandrew Wiggins, Clarence Williams, Deborah Ann Holt, and Jacqueline Moore would officially desegregate 4 former all white elementary schools. Choosing children opposed to high school students, as done in other cities and states, was a strategic play that probably kept that day from becoming violent. The schools they desegrated included Bruce, Gordon, Rozelle, and Springdale elementary. A documentary on the subject was created by University of Memphis Law Professor Daniel Kiel in 2011. I have included the link below so that you all may watch!
9. Black Memphis Music Clubs and Theatres
Here I just wanted to highlight some of the places black Memphians were able to enjoy themselves, whether it was to party, skate, have a night out, see their favorite artist perform, or catch a movie these spaces provided them with entertainment. Most of these poplar black spaces were located in Downtown Memphis and saw plenty of amazing black talent especially in the 50s and 60s. These spots were
Club Handy, the Hippodrome, the Palace Theatre, the Flamingo Room, and Curry's Tropicana Club. The links below provided a little insight into Memphis' music/club scene as well as supply of with visual of how fly black Memphis was back in the day.
10. Hattiloo Theatre
Hattiloo Theatre is Memphis' only freestanding Black performance theatre and is located in Overton Square at 37 Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38103. Founded in 2006 Hattiloo started out as non-profit organization but quickly grow into the beautiful space we know today. This year brings us season 15 at Hattiloo and they continue to support black artist of all forms!
"Hattiloo Theatre’s art collection of notable Black Theatre artists is one of a kind in the nation. Each year, Hattiloo commissions Black artists who are from or living in Memphis to create a work as part of a visual map of Black theatre’s journey through American history."
They currently offer a variety of programs such as theatre school, the black theatre mangers fellowship, and more. Learn more about Hattiloo and the theatre schedule by clicking on the link below!
11. Ernest Withers
Memphian Ernest C. Withers was an African American photojournalist during the Civil Rights moment and one of the city’s first African American police officers. His photos tell stories of the work of Martin Luther King, give moments from the trial of Emmett Till, tell the stories of integration of public spaces and the end of the Negro Leagues. He was also the official photographer for Stax Records and took photos of artist such as Isaac Hayes, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and BB King. His work appeared in the New York Times, Life, People, Time, Jet, Ebony, The Washington Post and more. Withers took more than a million pictures in his career and The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. displays some of his work. The Withers Collection Museum and Gallery in Downtown Memphis was once his studio but in 2011 opened to the public as a museum. The museum is also used to host public panel discussions and can host private events.
12. Memphis State 8
In September of 1959 eight African American students would change the campus of Memphis State (Now the University of Memphis) forever. Rose Blakney-Love, Eleanor Gandy, Sammie Johnson, Marvis Kneeland Jones, Bertha Rogers Looney, Luther McClellan, Ralph Prater and John Simpson desegrated Memphis State but desegregation wouldn’t mean the students would be treated as equals on campus. As the only minority students on the campus, they faced many restrictions. They would have to use separate restrooms, weren’t allowed to attend dances, join sports, bands, fraternities, and sororities. These 8 individuals would have a long fight ahead of them, but progress would be made! The students would perform sit ins, protest, and create organizations to help them create the college experience they deserved. One of the first campus organization the student founded would be BSA, The Black Student Association, which is now the campus’ largest minority student organization. Because of their attendance, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work (accompanied with the work of many more) I was able to attend the University of Memphis without limitations. I am forever grateful for their work and spirit. A scholarship and the alumni mall on the main campus is named after the first graduate of the Memphis State Eight, Luther C. McClellan. He was also the first African American graduate of the University.
13. LeMoyne- Owen College
LeMoyne-Owen College is Memphis’ only HBCU(Historically Black Colleges and Universities). It was the outcome of a merger between Lemoyne College and Owen College in 1968. LeMoyne College was an elementary school in 1862 but was burned down during the Memphis Massacre. The school was rebuilt in 1867 and then moved to LeMoyne Owen's current location on Walker Ave in 1914. It became a junior college in 1924 and then a four college in 1930. In 1947 Owen College was established on Vance Ave offering two year associate degrees in general education, business, home economics and religious education. Owen College would suffer some hardship but still merge with LeMonye College in 1968 becoming one of the world's private historically black colleges.
14. First Baptist Beale Street
Built in 1869 First Baptist Beale Street was the first church built in Memphis (and one of the first churches in the south) for and by African Americans. The church was also home to Memphis Free Speech edited by Ida B. Wells which was the city’s first black newspaper. First Baptist Beale Street was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
We all know that Memphis is a Music city, a city that has been named the birthplace of Rock and Roll and Blues. So, it is only right that I give a small list of black musicians/artists that are from Memphis and have contributed to not only the culture and sound of Memphis but to Music.
Issac Hayes, Booker T. Jones, Albert Jackson Jr., Junior Wells, The Bar-Kays, 8Ball, Lil Hardin Armstrong, David Porter, Johnny Ace, Dj Paul, Gangsta Boo, La Chat, Lord Infamous, Crunchy Black, Koopsta Knicca, Project Pat, William Shade Jr., Playa Fly, Booker Little, Cassietta George, Al Kapone, KoKo Taylor, Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, Blac Youngsta, Skinny Pimp, Pooh Shiesty, Frayser Boy, Drumma Boy, Kameron Whalum, Kirk Whalum, MJG, Anita Ward, Memphis Slim, Hank Crawford, Alberta Hunter, Juicy J, Key Glock, Nakia Shine, Young Dolph, Maurice White
David Porter, Snottie Wild, Ben Branch