A Weekend in Memphis

We spent the weekend being tourists in celebration of Debbie’s recent birthday. Our first adventure was a bus tour of the city. our tour guide Larry did a great job explaining the history and telling us about the different places.

Here are some of the highlights.

Our tour began on Beale Street, which was created in 1841 by entrepreneur and developer Robertson Topp, who named it for a forgotten military hero. (The original name was Beale Avenue.) Its western end primarily housed shops of trade merchants, who traded goods with ships along the Mississippi River, while the eastern part developed as an affluent suburb. In the 1860s, many black traveling musicians began performing on Beale.  In 1909, W. C. Handy wrote “Mr. Crump” as a campaign song for political machine leader E. H. Crump. The song was later renamed “The Memphis Blues.” Handy also wrote a song called “Beale Street Blues” in 1916 which influenced the change of the street’s name from Beale Avenue to Beale Street. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B. B. King, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon and other blues and jazz legends played on Beale Street and helped develop the style known as Memphis Blues. As a young man, B. B. King was billed as “the Beale Street Blues Boy.” 

Lauderdale Courts

Elvis Presley and his parents lived at 185 Winchester, Apt. 328, a low-income housing community, from October 1949 to January 1953, when they were forced to move because their income exceeded the level allowed. The photo below shows their apartment unit with he living room on the left, and bedroom on the right.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

We’ve all seen the commercials. it was founded by Danny Thomas in 1962 on the premise that “no child should die in the dawn of life”. The hospital costs about $2.8 million a day to run, but patients are not charged for their care, food, or housing.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

I Am A Man Plaza

Created to honor the sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968. The “I am a Man” Plaza is located next to Clayborn Temple, a key rallying point for the historic 1968 Memphis sanitation strike. The area features a sculpture along with a wall filled with the names of those who participated in the strikes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led his final march for the workers from here on March 28th.

The Lorraine Motel

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated here just a day after delivering his prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. 

Built in 1925, the Lorraine Hotel was a typical Southern hotel accessible only to whites in its early history; it was renamed the Lorraine Motel after the second floor was added. However, by the end of World War II, the Lorraine had become one of the few black establishments, and one of the only hotels providing accomodations to African Americans. Early guests to the Lorraine included Cab Colloway, Count Basie, and other prominent jazz musicians, in addition to later celebrities such as Roy Campanella, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin. Partly because of its historical importance to the black community of Memphis, Martin Luther King chose to stay at the Lorraine during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike. 

King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and other black leaders came to support 1,300 striking sanitation workers. Their grievances included unfair working conditions (on rainy days, black workers had to return home without pay while paid white supervisors remained on the job, and black workers were given only one uniform and no place in which to change clothes), and poor pay (the highest-paid black worker could not hope to earn more than $70 a week).

Outside of the Lorraine Motel is the Jacqueline Smith Boycott.

Jacqueline Smith protest

The Lorraine Motel housed temporary guests and residents as an SRO. The last resident was Jacqueline Smith, who had lived there since 1973 while working for the motel as a housekeeper. When the motel was closed in 1988, Smith was evicted. The neighborhood at the time around the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominantly black area. The reconstruction of the neighborhood was related to other urban redevelopment projects in the downtown area. and the inclusion of the museum in the arts district.

Smith’s belongings were piled across the street where she covered them with a tarp and set up camp and continued to live as she daily maintains her protest vigil to this day. 33 years later.

Victorian Village

Victorian Village is a small enclave of 19th-century mansions, several of which have been converted to museums. The Mallory-Neely House features stained-glass windows and 1890s furniture, while the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum specializes in fashion and textiles from the Victorian era to the 1920s.

Our tour ended at the Rock n Soul Museum. It tells the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world.

Our celebration dinner was from Maximo’s on Broad. Seafood Paella. It was awesome. If you’re in Memphis check them out.

Day two of our Memphis adventure was a riverboat tour of the Mississippi River, with dinner being a rack of ribs from Central BBQ. another great meal and place you should check out when in Memphis.

It was a fun filled weekend and a great way to celebrate Debbie’s birthday.

After a week of work, it’s on to Little Rock, to see what that city has to offer.

Until then,

Safe travels.

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