100 Years of Orange Mound, Memphis: America’s 1st Black Mecca

As Memphis, Tennessee recently celebrated it’s 200th birthday in May, the country’s oldest African-American neighborhood is also marking 100 years as an official part of the city of Memphis since 1919.

Before Tulsa, Rosewood, and Harlem there was ‘The Mound’

A graffiti painted basketball rim stands at Orange Mound Park.
Early row houses built by African Americans in Orange Mound. These plots of land were sold to them by Izey Eugene Meacham for less than $100 a piece.
Young men and women get relief from the summer heat, swimming at the Orange Mound swimming pool in this undated photograph. (Courtesy Memphis & Shelby County Public Library and Information Center)
Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store. It was founded on September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders.

Music & Melrose

The hit rap duo 8 Ball & MJG (Premro Smith and Marlon Jermain Goodwin) grew up in Orange Mound. They met at Ridgeway High in East Memphis where many Orange Mound children were educated from the early 1970s to the early 1990s
Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White was an African-American Delta blues guitarist and singer from Orange Mound. Bukka is a phonetic spelling of White’s first name; he was named after the well-known African-American educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington
The Handy hosted the finest in African-American entertainment. In 1953 alone, Little Esther Phillips, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Lloyd Price, and Ivory Joe Hunter played at the Handy. The theater site was demolished in 2012.
An extremely rare 1939 post card featuring Melrose High School
Orange Mound native, Dr. Alvin Crawford became the first African American to earn a medical degree from the University of Tennessee. Crawford is a prolific author, publishing more than 200 articles, 6 books, and 52 chapters.

Angela Dennis is a Journalist for the USA Today Network/Knoxville News Sentinel, Editor for Black With No Chaser and Co-Host of the Black in Appalachia Podcast.

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