It makes an appearance at many parties, has a weekend long festival held in its honor, and is one of Memphis, Tennessee’s most unique qualities. Barbecue. “Slow smoked to perfection” and squished between two buns, smothered with cheese atop hot nachos, or simply drizzled with barbecue sauce with its lovely counterparts slaw and beans complementing each bite. Barbecue is more than just a delicious dish to Memphians; it is a significant part of our diverse culture that everyone can have a bite of.
Memphis, Tennessee. Where Elvis Presley called home, B.B. King made his big break, and the first grocery store in the nation, Piggly Wiggly, was founded; these occurrences show that Memphis is infused with remarkable history. Aretha Franklin’s soulful melodies that flowed from the Stax museum make me pleased to call this place my home, but adversity is no foreign concept to the home of the blues. Much of its history I am not proud to claim. For instance, being the location of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 shows the racial tension that we as a city have long endured.
This tragedy damaged the city emotionally as well as strengthened the rigidity between races. Jamie Katz, a writer for the Smithsonian, describes the turmoil that struck Memphis after the death of Martin Luther King stating; “That traumatic event and the ensuing riots accelerated an inner-city decay that fed on racial disharmony, tax-advantaged suburban development and the decline of Memphis’ economic mainstays. Businesses and homeowners gravitated toward suburban havens to the east, such as Germantown and Collierville.”(Katz 5). What Katz means in this article, is that urban sprawl was the instance when middle to higher-class citizens moved away from urban areas in order to flee from those of impoverished lifestyles and violence. Yet, in Memphis especially, the farther east people sprawled, the stronger segregation became.
Urban sprawl did not only take place in Memphis though; our beloved Knoxville as well as Nashville also endured this happening. Pushing boarders and livelihoods farther from where the hearts of the cities once were, poverty overcame urban areas, businesses were boarded up, and downtown areas became derelict.
Recently it has become a popular trend in urban areas to revitalize those boarded up shops into the once thriving cities they once were by creating trendy new places for people to live, hangout, and more. Yet, this “urban renewal” is not as simple of a definition as we thought. Emily Badger, writer for the New York Times explains, “Among scholars and many city dwellers, urban renewal is remembered for its vast destruction of minority communities, when entire neighborhoods were razed for housing, highways and civic projects.” (Badger 5). This term “renewal”, that seems so exhilarating and positive for a city has been the cause of the displacement of many inner city families, for often times when an area is revitalized the rent on whomever lives in the areas home goes up as well, forcing them to move.
I do not mean to discredit people trying to revitalize cities, for I do believe that development is necessary. Although, I would like to ask who these changes are being made for. Are they for the inner city people who have been living there the past twenty years, or are they for the hipsters that just moved here a few months ago, or are they for everyone? It is a problem of exclusion, and my hope for my city, Memphis, is that we can all come together, no matter our ethnicity, gender, or religion to improve our city for everyone.
That is what I believe barbecue’s role is in this revitalization; to hold the city together by reasurring the population that we share something as a community, and it’s great. Barbecue is more than just a delicious dish to Memphians; it is a significant part of our diverse culture. I think that Memphis shows that revitalization of cities does not have to be as exclusive as it has been in years past. You aren’t a true Memphian if you haven’t been to the renowned “bbq spot” The Rendezvous downtown on 2nd street, enjoyed a Grizzlies game with barbecue nachos, or eaten from a central barbecue food truck at a free Levitt shell summer concert. These events and places attract all walks of life no matter their race, gender, or religious outlook, and I find this refreshing and feel as though it captures the bonding essence that barbecue contains.
Throughout the hardships that Memphis has faced over the years, I find a beauty in the growth I have seen throughout my lifetime. I think there is something to be said for the way that Memphis has dealt with its history, for I think we are not running from it; we are taking the bad and creating the best we can. We were the city that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on his motel balcony, and that same Loraine Motel was transformed into the incredible Civil Rights Museum teaching Memphians of our history, so that it is not repeated.
Gathered by the Mississippi at sundown to indulge in music, old friends, and most of all, barbecue. Soul music covered in laughter as the smell of beer and barbecue dance together on the riverbank. Memphis Barbecue Festival is a place where all classes come together as a city to celebrate our famous dish. An over served man with barbecue sauce around the corners of his lips; an out-of-towner tastes their first bite of Memphis.
Katz, Jamie. “The Soul of Memphis.” The Smithsonian, May 2010, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/the-soul-of-memphis-14139079/. Accessed 23 March 2017.
Badger, Emily. “Why Trump’s Use of the Word ‘Urban Renewal’ is Scary For Cities.” The New York Times, 7 Dec. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/upshot/why-trumps-use-of-the-words-urban-renewal-is-scary-for-cities.html?_r=0. Accessed 10 April 2017.