Whitehaven celebrates MLK legacy with Whitehaven Black Restaurant Week

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was well-known for his legacy of nonviolence, but his work also centered economic justice and promoted communal responsibility and the pooling of resources for economic prosperity in Black communities.

Pearl Walker, president of the I Love Whitehaven Neighborhood Association, said the group is organizing its Whitehaven Black Restaurant Week from January 19-26 to honor King's legacy, promote Black-owned businesses and bring attention to a majority-Black community.

"A lot of people just don't know what's going on in Whitehaven," said Walker. "This is about support."

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King's famous 'I Have a Dream' speech was given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Before his assassination he was working on another Washington D.C. demonstration known as the Poor People's Campaign, the goal of which was to highlight joblessness and economic oppression. King came to Memphis to support sanitation workers rights, and in one of his last sermons he said, "If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”

Co-owners Eric Bland and Quavisa Henderson in ElectroLyfe Juice Bar, one of two participating restaurants that is both Black and woman-owned. (Brandon Dahlberg)
I Love Whitehaven hopes to drive business to the 10 participating restaurants and show that Whitehaven has the buying power to sustain new businesses. 

“We’re for progress whether it’s Black-owned or otherwise. We want progress," said Walker. "I can't impress upon you enough the spending power that is in Whitehaven. The dollars that leave Whitehaven due to a lack of things we want. Yes, we want to support Black-owned restaurants, but we spend money on other things as well. But we have to leave our community to do that."

Related: "Flight of the Red Lobster: Whitehaven retail adapts to Mississippi migration"

This is the second large event from I Love Whitehaven, which is currently seeking 501(c)3 nonprofit status and plans to launch its website soon. The first, an I Love Whitehaven Weekend held in November 2018, helped package and promote existing events like the annual Whitehaven Christmas Parade and Christmas concert at Abundant Grace Church alongside an open-air market and food truck corral held at Whitehaven Plaza.

Walker said that a lot of Whitehaven residents feel ignored by the city and developers, and Whitehaven Black Restaurant Week is a way to create their own investment. 

"A lot of the residents feel like the city has turned its back on Whitehaven and gives all its energy to Graceland," said Walker. "So I'm just part of a sentiment, a group of people saying, 'You know what, let's do it ourselves.'"

Related: "More than Graceland: Whitehaven's 200-year history"

"I like to participate in activities with these restaurants when I can. And I always try to support Black businesses," said Stanley Taylor, co-owner of Motherland Gallery which is sponsoring the week-long event. Located at 4080 Elvis Presley Boulevard in the Whitehaven Plaza, Motherland Gallery is within 10 minutes of all the participating restaurants and is hosting the Salad Express pop-up on January 21. 

“I think [the restaurant week] means a great deal," he continued. "It draws attention, brings people in from other parts of the city. It’s word of mouth. I think it’s really important and we’re going to continue to support activities like this.”

Related: "Two newly opened health food restaurants bring fresh fare to Whitehaven"

Walker said Reaves Law Firm, PLLC, a Whitehaven-based firm located at 4466 Elvis Presley Boulevard, is another example of a community member doing its part to help both Black-owned restaurants in Whitehaven and workers affected by the federal government's historic shutdown.

“They’re feeding furloughed workers," she said. "If you go to Reaves' office and present your proof of furlough, they’ll give you a coupon to go across the parking lot and get a free meal at Egg King Cafe."

“I think Dr. King would be proud of [Whitehaven Black Restaurant Week]," said Walker. "Take me out of the equation, just the energy around it. People coming together to support each other. I think he would be real proud of this. He would have questions about why the city isn’t doing more to lend a hand … but simply put, I think he would be proud and he’d probably want to know where the soul food places are.”

(L to R) Erica Celestine, Ernestine King, Gail Kuykendall Fisher, Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice J. Robinson, NAACP Memphis Branch Executive Director Vickie Terry and Karlon W. King meet for lunch on January 20 at Kountry Kitchen to kick off Whitehaven Black Restaurant Week. (Submitted)

Participating Restaurants

Egg King Cafe
4485 Elvis Presley Blvd. | 901.249.3690
Breakfast and lunch with healthy options

ElectroLyfe Juice Bar
4466 Elvis Presley Blvd. Suite 164 | 901.244.6727
Juice bar and healthy dishes

Kountry Kitchen
1128 Winchester Rd. | 901.345.5505
Classic Southern soul food

Lenny's Deli Sandwiches & Hot Philly Subs
4103 Elvis Presley Blvd | 901.507.4298
Sandwiches, salads and subs

Millbranch Wings & More
5182 Millbranch Rd. | 901.421.8094 
Wings, burgers, salads and more

Pollard's BBQ
4560 Elvis Presley Blvd. | 901.398.2987 
Barbecue, burgers and fish

Salad Express (Pop Up at Motherland Gallery, Jan 21 12-3pm)
4080 Elvis Presley Blvd. 
Fresh loaded salads with meat options

Sensational Wings & Things
9050 Millbranch Rd. | 662.470.5939
Wings, burgers, and health options

Smooth Living Health Food Restaurant 
1263 Winchester Rd. | 901.308.2994 
A tasty variety of smoothies and healthy dishes 

Uncle Lou's
3633 Millbranch Rd. | 901.332.2367 
Chicken, wings, burgers and healthy options

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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.