Mayors announce year of celebration for Memphis, Shelby County bicentennials

At a March 21 press conference, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced the calendar of events for the joint city-county bicentennial celebrations. The year’s festivities have been branded collectively as A New Century of Soul.

“As a community we have the unique advantage of celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of both our city and the county in the same year, giving us a reason to celebrate this new century of soul throughout 2019,” said Harris.

Ekundayo Bandele, founder and CEO of Hattiloo Theatre, served as host for the March 21 press conference and said the bicentennial is more than just a birthday.

“It is an invitation to people locally and globally to join us as we honor our story and the powerful next chapter that is about to be written,” he said.

Both Harris and Strickland emphasized the importance of mutual cooperation, celebration and respect between the city and county now and moving forward to the next 100 years.

“Our community is coming together in a new era, embracing the important lessons of our past and finding powerful new voices that carry us into the future,” said Harris.

“Together we have such a powerful story to tell,” added Strickland. “And like most things we deal with, we are always more powerful working together as one community.”

A poster announcing the New Century of Soul bicentennial celebrations hangs on a pillar in the Crosstown Concourse. (Cole Bradley)

The bicentennial’s biggest celebrations will include the Spirits and Soul Festival. Hosted by Old Dominick Distillery April 26-27, the event will draw 30 distillers and guests from across the state for music, food and libations. On May 22 the City of Memphis turns 200 with New Century of Service, a regional community service event hosted by United Way. On May 25 Memphis in May will host a free event to honor neighbors and neighborhoods across the county.

“I’m told we’re going to be breaking some world records and having a light show that you likely have never seen before so mark your calendars,” said Harris.

On Sept 27 Memphis will host its first Audacity Fest, a gathering of travelers from around the world who will meet to share ideas and experience new cultures, and on Nov 24 Shelby County turns 200. Each municipality within its jurisdiction will come together for a closing ceremony at Shelby Farms Park.

Bandele also noted that there will be a number of other events throughout the year hosted by local organizations including Memphis Express, Leadership Memphis, Theater Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum, New Memphis Institute, Indie Memphis Film Festival, Southern Heritage Classic, Clayborn Temple and more.

For a full schedule of events, visit

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris announces the schedule of events for the city and county bicentennial celebrations at a March 21 press conference. (Cole Bradley)

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its fundraising arm ALSAC are the presenting sponsor for the year-long celebration. Other key partnerships include Autozone, FedEx, First Tennessee Foundation, Hyde Foundation and Walmart.

“From nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies, our community is blessed with passionate individuals and organizations that have inspired our new century of soul,” said Strickland.

“Undoubtedly 2019 will be a memorable year,” said Harris. “It will be a celebration of the originality and soul that flows from Millington to South Memphis, from Klondike to Collierville.”

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017. 
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