An intro to Memphis Black history

Beyond the National Civil Rights Museum and Beale Street, the vision and effort of Black Memphians can be found in every corner of the city. Black History Month, which takes place nationally between February 1 and 28, can find many roots in Memphis. From journalist Ida B. Wells who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shed light on southern lynchings to Dr. Carnita Atwater, who is currently quietly assembling a Black history collection in a North Memphis community center, Black Memphians inform the fabric of the city's history.

Below are a selection of our favorite articles related to Black Memphis history; click on the titles to learn more. 

People's power: Memphis’ early history of race, resistance and Black political power
A 160-year-old farmhouse-turned-museum in Uptown details Memphis’ participation in the slave trade and Underground Railroad, but it’s only one piece of the city’s story of collective resistance and powerful Black influence.

Five sites you may not know about along the Memphis Heritage Trail
The National Civil Rights Museum and Beale Street cannot contain all of Memphis' cultural heritage. An innovative project, the Memphis Heritage Trail, brings the history of Memphis' streets and structures from South Memphis to Orange Mound to life through art installations and signage.

Memphis Black history: Orange Mound as a haven for Black Memphians
Orange Mound was the first place that African-Americans could own their own homes. They built a school, which still operates as Melrose High School. Black doctors, lawyers, and educators moved there. Eventually, it grew to become the second largest community of African-American residents, after Harlem, New York.

Robert Church Park located Downtown next to Beale Street Baptist Church. (Andrea Morales)
Memphis Black history: Millionaire Robert Church rebuilds Memphis after the Yellow Fever epidemic
Robert Church stuck it out. He dedicated his life to the city that he loved even when times got difficult. When he had the privilege to run away, he stayed and invested in Memphis.

Memphis Black history: Ida B. Wells nevertheless persisted
Journalist and early civil rights leaders Ida B. Wells wrote an article in the Memphis-based newspaper Free Speech and Headlight urging blacks to leave Memphis altogether following a rash of lynchings. Six thousand people left the city. 

Memphis Black History: From rejection to running the school board
It took about 45 years, but Maxine Smith went from not being accepted to a school based on her race to joining that school's highest governing body.

In their own words: Organizers recount Memphis' massive Black Lives Matter protest one year later
On July 10, 2016, Memphis residents shut down the Interstate-40 bridge over the Mississippi River. One year later, activists tell the story of the Black Lives Matter protest in their own words. 

Stanley Campbell, founder of the House of Mtenzi museum. (Ziggy Mack)
Larger than the Lorraine: Local Black history museums you haven't heard of
Hyper-local museums run by Memphians bring a personal angle to the dominant narrative of the city's fight for civil rights.

A champion for health in Whitehaven advocates herbal remedies at his family-run shop
Dr. Charles Champion is the first African-American doctor of pharmacy to be hired by a hospital in Memphis and the first African-American pharmacist to be hired by a chain drug store in Memphis. Now 87 years old, he shares decades of experience at Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store in Whitehaven.

This Black beauty company survived segregation in Memphis. Now it faces off against e-commerce.
Founded in 1935, Lucky Heart Cosmetics has seen its share of changes. In 2017, the Black beauty product manufacturer opened its first retail store in the hopes of attracting its next generation of loyal customers.

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.