I have been to Tennessee at least once before. I went for some computer training in Nashville, aka Music City, back in the Nineties. I was able to do the obvious sights, including the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel, Dollywood, and Nashville’s Music Mile and Music Row. And I do remember how hot and humid the Nashville summer was. I wonder what ever became of my old friend, Miss Tennessee (her name is Pamelia)? But I have always wanted to visit Graceland, near Memphis, on the other side of the state.
But I still have some uneasiness, after all these years, of being in substantially, an all white state, as a minority. I grew up in the 60s, when segregation, busing, integration, and Martin Luther King were dominating the headlines in newspapers and television. Whether or not this is warranted, only time will tell. But the stories and images of a more contentious time remain in my head. I just always try to keep myself in safe situations when traveling alone.
Memphis, on the other hand, sits on the confluence of the Mississippi and Wolf Rivers, on the western end of the state, near Arkansas. With about 700,000 people, Memphis is the largest city (Nashville has a larger metro area) in Tennessee. And this state was the home of famous pioneers like Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson (who actually helped found Memphis), and Al Gore, who invented the internet and global warming (just ask him!).
Memphis was a major slave market in the antebellum South. Tennessee seceded from the Union in June, 1861. After the Battle of Memphis the next year, Memphis remained under Union control for the duration of the war. It became a Union supply base. Later in 1870, yellow fever devastated Memphis, resulting in 75% of the people dying or leaving.
But despite that, Memphis became the world’s largest market for spot cotton and hardwood lumber. It was also the world’s largest mule market! During the 1960s, the civil rights movement overtook Memphis with the sanitation strike. But sadly, and most importantly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated here at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.
The list of famous musicians who grew up around here is notable. These include: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Johnny Trash, W.C. Handy, Roy Orbison, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, B.B. King, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Justin Timberlake, Wilson Pickett, Al Green, Albert King, The Box Tops, and Alex Chilton. A rather impressive list!
In fact, the top 5 music attractions are Graceland, Stax Records, Sun Studio, Rock and Soul Museum, and the Gibson Guitar Factory. The composition of Memphis remains much like it was during the Civil War, with 62.6% Blacks, and 31.7% Whites. Hispanics are 5%, while Asians are only 1.7%.
The Mason Temple here is where Dr. King gave his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the day before he was killed. We are coming up on Dr. King’s birthday later this month.
The Arcade Memphis is known for their barbecue. This will present an opportunity to compare it to North Carolina, Nashville, Hotlanta, and Texas (the famous Salt Lick). The Arcade, pictured above, is the oldest restaurant in Memphis. I am sure there is more to Memphis cuisine than barbecue.
BTW, I ran across a great website/blog called “I Love Memphis” and it is extremely well written, and enthusiastic. I plan to find out more about it. But my reasons for being here are threefold. First, I have always wanted to visit Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. Second, I wanted to visit famous Beale Street and its musical legacy. And third, I can visit up to three more states that I have never visited before, Arkansas (home of Slick Willie), Mississippi, and Alabama. I figured it is the least painful way to get to these states without actually staying there!!!