Orange Mound

Four things the On The Ground team learned while reporting in Orange Mound

For the past four months, the On The Ground team of High Ground News has worked alongside residents and stakeholders in Orange Mound as part of an embedded reporting engagement. We saw a different side of Orange Mound that may be traditionally shown in the media. 

Working out of the Orange Mound Community Service Center on 2572 Park Avenue, we produced 17 stories and profiles, four photo essays, three videos and seven recorded live interviews that centered the voices of neighborhood residents. Running through that body of work are four key themes that paint Orange Mound: 

Orange Mound believes in preserving history

In a community of elders, there is a story for every corner and every street.

In Orange Mound, community members over 65 years old make up 14 percent of the population, and residents aged 18 to 64, which is considered working age, represent 60 percent.

Residents and community stakeholders are adamant about moving forward while keeping the lessons learned from the past intact. The Blues City Cultural Center is partnering with Middle Tennessee State University, Melrose High School, City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment to create a heritage room in Melrose High School.

Blues City is receiving donations of photos, journals, newspapers and other artifacts that can help tell the story of Orange Mound and bring the room to life by April 2018.

Organizations like the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment are dedicated to reviving the original Melrose High building, at 843 Dallas Street, which has been shuttered since the 1980s. The future of the building is in sight with recent discussions around Tourist Development Zone funding through the City of Memphis.

Orange Mound was built by entrepreneurs and homeowners

Founded as a neighborhood that provided early opportunities for African-Americans to purchase land and build homes 25 years after the abolition of slavery in the United States, homeownership in Orange Mound was once a great source of pride.

However, older generations have passed and left their homes to younger generations who may not be living in the inherited properties. According to data gathered from the U.S. Census for the Orange Mound Community Development Center, as of 2015 there are 3,081 housing units available in Orange Mound, and 32 percent of those units are vacant.

In an effort to increase the quality of rental housing and homeownership in the community, organizations like the Orange Mound Development Corporation have partnered with NHO Management, Inc. and RedZone Ministries to build duplexes that better meet the needs of families.

Like the housing market, the economy in Orange Mound has waned and waxed over the past 127 years. Institutions like Evensky’s Big and Tall on 2363 Park Avenue, Orange Mound Grill on 1238 Airways Boulevard and Fred Davis Insurance on 1374 Airways Boulevard have been staples in the community for generations.

Younger businesses such as the Tee-Shirt-Lab on 1314 Airways Boulevard and My Cup of Tea on 3028 Carnes Avenue find ways to give back directly to the community. The owners of the Tee-Shirt-Lab started a collection of Orange Mound pride shirts and donate the profits to local school drives. My Cup of Tea is a nonprofit that provides jobs to women in Orange Mound and produces unique packaged teas and products.

Orange Mound is fun

Orange Mound was once home to live music venues like the W.C. Handy Theatre, drive-in movies and a park that boasted two tennis courts, a baseball field, basketball court and a swimming pool. Those these assets are no longer open or have been replaced over the years, the residents of Orange Mound are not lacking in things to do.

Club Memphis hosts, LGBTQ-friendly parties that are often free. Generations of Melrose High School alumni tailgate and attend football games and seniors can attend classes at the Orange Mound Community Service Center to learn everything from knitting to tap dance.

The Orange Mound Gallery on 2230 Lamar Avenue consistently hosts the work of local artists. The Orange Mound Raiders and New Ballet Ensemble keep youth busy year-round through sports and dance, and the annual Orange Mound parade is a smorgasbord of community pride experienced through food, laughter and fun.

Orange Mound is accepting

The residents of this warm and welcoming community have patiently answered questions and invited the High Ground News team to attend community meetings to discuss opportunites to strengthen the neighborhood through improving community schools, attending to the challenges that face small business owners and providing healthier food options.

Since our embedded reporting engagement began in August, High Ground News has hosted editorial advisories with stakeholders of the arts, business and education spheres of Orange Mound. We sponsored in the Round the Mound 5K hosted by JUICE and hosted a community housing panel in Beulah Baptist Church where nearly 75 residents responded to the challenges of housing an aging community.

During the "Age of Osage: Orange Mound in Photographs" exhibit at the Orange Mound Gallery, we invited members of the community to attend a photo show highlighting some of the best moments our photographers captured in Orange Mound.

During our final week of editorial coverage in Orange Mound, photographer Andrea Morales met with eight students on the Melrose High School yearbook staff to talk about professional opportunities for photographers. She then took to the maroon and gold hallways of Melrose High with the students as they snapped photos for their yearbook giving tips on lighting and framing shots over the course of an hour.

As the students took photos of teachers, their peers in cosmetology class, and the high school gym, Morales guided them on the best use of their equipment.

During this program, we talked, laughed, cheered, cried, danced, sampled teas, and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese from Orange Mound Grill.

As we enter the closing of our On The Ground reporting in Orange Mound, we hope that readers have received some insight into this historic community and whether through trying a spicy tamale from Pop’s or attending a JUICE meeting, that you will take some time to experience it for yourself.

Next stop, Whitehaven.

Read more articles by Erica Horton.

Born and raised in Memphis, Erica Horton is a freelance journalist that loves to learn and write about almost anything. Email her story ideas here
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