A Community Called Orange Mound – Feb. 4, 2013

A Community Called Orange Mound – Feb. 4, 2013

(marching band)
♪♪♪ (male narrator)
It’s football season and, as
happens several times each fall, Melrose Stadium is filled
with family and friends eager to cheer their
favorite sons to victory. Don’t try to tell these fans
that this is just about high school sports, however. When the Golden Wildcats take
the field they wear the maroon and gold also worn
by their fathers, and their fathers’
fathers before them. With a school roster containing
names that go back generations, a Melrose game is as much family
reunion as it is school event, where not only
parents and siblings, but also aunts, uncles, cousins
and grandparents come together to show loyalty to their school
and to the neighborhood they call Orange Mound. Growing up in Orange Mound, it might sound strange, but
it was one of the greatest advantages to going out
into the world that I had. In 1825, John
Deaderick joined a growing tide of settlers to the Mississippi
Delta and moved his family to Shelby County. Deaderick’s father, George,
business partner of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson and
founder of the first bank in Tennessee, made his fortune
developing real estate in Davidson County. He’d helped grow Nashville into
a prosperous city and now John planned to do the
same for Memphis. (Cupples)
Very wealthy
family…landowners. At one time they had owned the
land that the capitol was built on. He came here as a builder and he
came to West Tennessee when the city of Memphis was
really very young. He bought land…five thousand
acres of land…about five miles from the river. He’s on out in the country. (male narrator)
With just a few
hundred inhabitants, the small river town was a
far cry from the city he left behind. Here in
west Tennessee we’re out on the frontier and the city is
young…there’s a lot of building going on to
accompany the growth. We need to realize of course
that river traffic was growing at a tremendous rate – we’re
just a few years at this point past the New Madrid fault and
it’s just a few years past the time when they had the high
powered steam engines that could go up the muddy
Mississippi River. Being a builder in this
area was a full time job. (male narrator)
A short distance
from Pigeon Roost Road, Deaderick built a rambling,
two-story house atop a small rise, which he surrounded with
a thick grove of hedge trees. Deriving its name from
the plants’ large fruit, commonly referred to
as the Osage orange, the plantation became
known as “Orange Mound.” He would live
there just six years. In 1831, at the age of forty,
John Deaderick passed away, leaving the plantation to
his wife and two young sons, Michael and William. Deaderick’s investment in
Shelby County was well founded. Thirty years later, Memphis
was a bustling port city of twenty-three thousand and one
of the world’s leading cotton markets. (Cupples)
Memphis went
through this great building growth in the eighteen
forties and eighteen fifties. Northern soldiers who came
here in the eighteen sixties war commented on the
many fine buildings, brick buildings, and well
built wooden frame houses. And this has all gone on in
the last twenty years or so. The eighteen forties come along,
ten or fifteen years after he arrives, the building
of the railroads… (male narrator)
One of the railroads, the
Memphis and Charleston, which dissected the
Deaderick property east-to-west, was the first in the nation to
connect the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast. ♪♪♪ (male narrator)
In 1825, slaves had been on
American soil for more than two centuries. Before the first plantations
came to West Tennessee, however, only a few hundred
African Americans – not all of them slaves – lived
in Shelby County. Memphis
at that time had a small black population. There were some, quote,
“free people of color.” Slaves in the city itself would
have been domestics or skilled workers, carpenters,
inside carpenters, brick layers. (male narrator)
By 1860, that
number was seventeen thousand. (Cupples)
They were
profitable with the development of the cotton gin. Prior to the cotton gin
in the seventeen nineties, slavery was actually on
its way out in America. The cotton gin changed that. One slave could produce as
much cotton in a day as it had previously taken fifty. And all of a sudden the
economics of staple cotton farming changed dramatically. (male narrator)
An entire economy
moved on a system fueled by slave labor and their owners
would rather go to war than have that system threatened. In 1861, they did just that. (female singing)
♪ No more,
my Lord, No more ♪ ♪ my Lord, Lord I’ll
never turn back No more… ♪ (male narrator)
As Union armies
advanced across the South, slaves caught in the wake
faced an uncertain future. When possible they seized
the opportunity to escape. ♪ And He
has made me glad… ♪ Out of the war early
with its capture and occupation by Union forces in June 1862,
Memphis became a magnet to those desperate for a
new life and camps outside the city
swelled with refugees. Quite literally,
they’re stealing themselves away from the Arkansas
delta, western Kentucky. They’re coming in from rural
areas of west Tennessee and northern Mississippi and they
are drawn to those Union lines and those Union encampments. Union army occupation in
Tennessee signaled the de facto end of slavery for those regions
where you found the troops. (male narrator)
At war’s end in 1865,
the city’s black population, three thousand in 1861, had
increased more than five-fold to over
sixteen thousand. ♪ And perhaps you
may find Find Him there… ♪ With the South’s
goal of independence in ruins, so, too, went its plantation
economy and the fortunes made on the backs of slave labor. (Cupples)
If you owned a lot
of slaves you lost a lot of capital
with emancipation. But if you put your money
into Confederate bonds…if you became part of the
Confederate economy…you lost. You lost. And if you did business with
the Confederate government, you lost. (male narrator)
Spared the destruction of other
cities such as Atlanta and Charleston, life in Memphis
continued much as it had before the war. To make room for a growing
population – over forty thousand by 1870 – the city
expanded eastward, absorbing land once
belonging to local plantations. In 1871, the Deadericks opened a
hundred-fifty acre tract south of the Memphis &
Charleston to development. Naming the streets within
for various family members, the brothers called their new
subdivision “Melrose Station.” Building was halted, however, as
three devastating yellow fever epidemics over the next eight
years cost the city a fourth of its inhabitants. Ultimately,
from over forty five thousand, you had a reduced population
during the height of the fever of about twenty thousand, of
whom approximately seventeen thousand were African American. You saw during this same
period, ironically enough, although they had were not
serving on the police force, it was in fact two militia
companies of African Americans who patrolled the city,
initiated a kind of martial law that in effect was instituted
to protect not only the citizens but property. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ (male narrator)
As the
eighteen ninteties approached, Memphis’ fortunes
were returning. Population was restored and even
surpassed that of pre-epidemic years. The quality of life for the
city’s residents was also improving. Better sanitation, along
with a new sewer system and the discovery of a vast
supply of pure artesian water, reduced the risk of disease
while improving public health overall. Streetcars made getting from one
side of town to the other more convenient, and construction
would soon begin on the first trolley line to be
powered by electricity. On weekends the more affluent
could relax at the recently expanded Memphis Jockey Club,
first built in 1851 on land purchased from the
Deaderick plantation. Later, after
Tennessee’s ban on horseracing, the property would become home
to the Mid South Fairgrounds. In late 1889,
Mattie Park Deaderick, widow of William Deaderick, who
had recently died at the age of sixty-two, sold sixty yet
undeveloped acres of Melrose Station to real
estate broker E.E. Meacham. Son of a prominent commission
merchant and wholesale grocer, Elzy Eugene Meacham
was born in Clarksville, Tennessee. After graduating from Kentucky
Military Institute at the age of twenty, Meacham returned to
Memphis in 1868 to work in his father’s cotton
exchange on Union Avenue. He eventually found his
calling in real estate, and would go on to develop
numerous projects across Shelby County, including properties in
the Annesdale and Cooper-Young subdivisions. ♪ Daniel saw the
stone that was hewed out the ♪ ♪ mountain Daniel saw the stone
that came rolling through ♪ ♪Babylon Daniel saw the stone
that was hewed out the mountain♪ ♪ Coming down to redeem
a mighty world ♪ Although numerous successful
black businessmen managed to rise above the status quo and
build homes the equal of any in the city,
in the segregated South of the late
nineteenth century, they were the exception and
housing options for most African Americans remained grim. Meacham was about to change
that for a lot of families. ♪ I found that stone
that was hewed out ♪ ♪ the mountain ♪ His new subdivision, which he called Orange
Mound after the name given the Deaderick
plantation years earlier, would attract not
only lifelong Memphians, but others from
across the South. ♪ down to redeem a
mighty world ♪ Here, we could
have a sense of ownership, we could have a
sense of viability, we could have a
sense of community, we could have a
sense of belonging. Property ownership has always
been of tremendous value in American culture. Everywhere you
look in the city where you find a lot of black people, they
are living in houses that white people moved out of. One of the unique things
about Orange Mound is, you look at the entire country,
is that every one of these small houses in Orange Mound was built
by black people forming a black community. Memphis began
its greatest economic boom that lasted from the eighteen
nineties until the great depression began in
nineteen twenty-nine. So all of Meacham’s real estate
development takes place during a time all over South Memphis,
which was the area that, historically, African Americans
had been consigned to after emancipation, so he comes
in and offers home ownership opportunity and a
chance to build a community. Meachum only sold the lot. He didn’t build anything so when
he sold the lot you had to come in and build on it. So that not only provided the
opportunity for someone to own a house but it also
provided work for a carpenter, a brick mason. Those people had jobs now
because somebody has come to buy a lot and now they need
someone to build on it. And when you build this person’s
house you find out hey I just made fifty dollars, I need fifty
more dollars and I can go buy this lot down the street
and build my own house. In many ways,
Mr. Meacham, even though he’s obviously
making a very substantial return on his investment, is at the
same time providing housing opportunities for African
Americans at a time when home ownership among African
Americans was practically zero. ♪ Won’t you ring
old hammer? ♪ ♪ Hammer Ring ♪ ♪ Won’t you ring,
old hammer? ♪ ♪ Hammer Ring ♪ ♪ Broke the handle
on my hammer, Hammer ring ♪ ♪ Broke the handle
on my hammer, Hammer ring ♪ ♪Got to hammerin’ in the Bible
Hammer ring Got to hammerin’ in♪ ♪ the Bible Hammer ring ♪ (male narrator)
In January 1890, Alice Speggins took possession
of plot number thirty-nine in Meacham’s Orange
Mound subdivision. Facing Park Avenue about halfway
between Grand and Marechalneil, it was twenty-five by one
hundred four feet and cost forty dollars. The prices varied but, in all,
Meacham went on to sell almost a thousand plotshe same
basic dimensions for ten dollars down and fifty cents a week. ♪ Hammer ring… ♪ ♪ Ring, old hammer,
Hammer Ring ♪ ♪ Ring, old hammer,
Hammer Ring ♪ For some time, most of
the houses built in Orange Mound would be the
so-called “shotgun” style. Consisting of just three or four
rooms arranged in a straight line, the homes were easy
and inexpensive to build. For a few hundred dollars, a
family could own a piece of land and a small house
to live in, but, at first, they
would get little else. There were no
additional city facilities. You used a well for
your drinking water, a privy was the necessary –
it was your outdoor plumbing; plumbing hadn’t come indoors
yet – and there were no paved streets. They were not paved,
they were not gravel. (male narrator)
Many years would pass
before those amenities came to Orange Mound. Nevertheless, the small lots
and shotgun houses attracted not only domestics and laborers,
but also people of learning as doctors, lawyers, and teachers
built their homes next to mechanics and laundry workers. Ithink the word “community”
sums it up. You had people who had common
goals and people who sought to rear their children in a safe
and vibrant community and they did what they had to do to
make sure that happened. You
could be a garbage collector. But when he came
into that community, this was Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is not viewed to
be the garbage collector. Mr. Jones is the head
deacon of Beulah Baptist Church. He is the
superintendent of the school. He is somebody of
note, of worth. And Orange Mound gives him
that, and gives his family that. ♪♪♪ (male narrator)
As Orange Mound neared
the end of its first thirty years, the
population of the Bluff City, at over one
hundred sixty thousand, was nearly triple that of 1890,
in part thanks to annexation. In 1919, Orange Mound joined
a growing list of suburbs to become part of Memphis. With schools for the children,
doctors to tend the ill, and a growing
commercial district, the enclave had
become, to a great extent, self-sufficient, and those who
grew up there were not eager to leave that comfort behind. Thus began the tradition of
generations of families who called Orange Mound home. The home I live in, my father built it, I
was born in that home, Dr. Spade was the
attending physician, and then my
brother, nine years later, was born in that same house. I was born
and reared in Orange Mound. I was born on
Marechalneil Street. In 1942, when I was six years
old and had just started first grade, my family moved to
the house where we live now. I have seen family activities of
seven generations in that house. We are part of
a huge tradition that goes back
to 1939 when my grandfather first
came to Orange Mound with his family, one of eight
children, my father was. Everybody knew everybody. If I was down the street or on
another street and I was acting up, Mrs. So-and-so knew me
because she knew my parents, we went to church together,
my brothers and sisters, we went to school
with each other, so we knew each other. You couldn’t get
away with anything… No one felt out of place. We always felt that
community, we felt that love, we felt supported
in this community. Everything that you would cherish in terms of the value
of the concept of community, Orange Mound had it. (male narrator)
As new generations
spread into adjacent neighborhoods, such
was its identity, that once-familiar
names like Melrose Station, Montgomery Park Place,
and Meacham’s own East End subdivision were forgotten,
while that of Orange Mound remained. Anywhere black
people moved in this area, it was called Orange Mound, even
though it was not a part of the original boundaries. Orange Mound
boundaries have mysteriously expanded over time. It depends on who you
ask what’s Orange Mound. Ask ten people and you’ll
probably get six or seven different bordering streets. We’ve
annexed a lot of streets that we call Orange Mound now, and it
sort of grows in that fashion. I’ve got friends who live out as
far as Highland who tell people they live in Orange Mound. And I say, “That’s right. Orange Mound annex. Bethel Grove –
Orange Mound annex.” ♪ This is the way
you build a bridge, ♪ ♪ build a bridge ♪ ♪ This is the way you build
a bridge all day long. ♪ ♪ Now come to Sally, Sally,
Sally, Come to Sally all day
long ♪ (male narrator)
In 1918 Melrose School
was built to replace the small county schoolhouse that had
served the community for nearly twenty years. Part of the system of schools
founded by Sears co-owner and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald,
the eleven-room fame and stucco building housed seventh
through twelfth grades, while the first six
grades attended another, smaller, Rosenwald school a
short distance away on Park Avenue. ♪ This is the way you
build a bridge all day long. ♪ Mr. Rosenwald
not only had an immense fortune, but a social conscience, and he
funded schools throughout the South to educate Blacks. (male narrator)
Twenty years
later, the two schools, badly overcrowded
and needing repair, moved together into a new
building on Dallas Street. Financed through the New Deal’s
Public Works Administration, the modern brick facility
had twenty-four classrooms, a library, and a health clinic. Later expansion added
another fifty-five rooms. From the time they
first entered a classroom, Orange Mound children
could count on support and encouragement from
everyone in the community. (Mitchell)
On Carnes Avenues, there was Crawford’s Sundry. That building is still there. We would go there for ice
cream and things like that. So when everybody
started first grade, they knew everybody
in the neighborhood, my peers, they would give us one
of these wide line tablets and a pencil and
encourage us to do well. When people
are able to go through their community school and the
community school is able to give back, it does tend to
bring people closer together. They nurtured
and expected community work. You didn’t just
get to go to school. You had to do more than that. You had to be out,
you had to be involved. You had to show up,
you had to show out, you had to show
your maroon and gold, you had to bleed
maroon and gold. You had to be a
Melrose Golden Wildcat, and once a Wildcat,
always a Wildcat. People
in this city always think of Melrose being this
big athletic school, just producing athlete
after athlete after athlete. And it did — still does —
very proud of it and we have all sorts of stories that you
probably heard about that. The thing is, I think that it
is important that you talk about that it’s a complete
school, academic-wise. We were tough. Music-wise, okay? I’m talking about
across the board, it really did have as much of a
complete program back in my era during the time before
integration came about that you could possibly have. Of course, everybody knew the
Crawfords and knew of Alvin Crawford. (male narrator)
The first African
American to earn a medical degree from the
University of Tennessee, 1957 Melrose graduate Alvin
Crawford is an internationally recognized expert in
childhood bone disorders. Author of two hundred
articles and six books, Dr. Crawford has won several
awards for his pioneering work in orthopedic surgery, and is
currently head of pediatric orthopedics at Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital Medical Center. When
I did the last part of my residency at the
University of Tennessee, and since I now work
there on the faculty, I mean…he’s a legend. ♪♪♪ (male narrator)
An active sports
program rounded out the Melrose curriculum and, in 1948, the
school had a new stadium in which to showcase that program. To this day, games in Melrose
Stadium are community events. On a Friday
night, Football season, Orange Mound
is probably one of the largest communities in this city because
people come back from everywhere to come to a football game. That’s one of the links
that they still have with the community. Even though they may not live
in the community any longer, and they may not have relatives
who live in this community any longer, they always can come
back to the football games and see each other and
rehash old friendships. It’s
one of the few places in Memphis where you can go to a football
game on a Friday night and you’ve got more
boosters than you do kids. There are more
people my age there. It’s like a reunion
every Friday night. (male narrator)
Fans have also shared
the experience of watching players during
their formative years, who went on to play
sports professionally. Football is not the only sport
in which Melrose graduates have excelled. Olympians Rochelle Stevens
and Sheila Echols added Gold Medalist to the list of honors,
while Ronnie Robinson and Robert “Bingo” Smith give bragging
rights to the basketball program. But the name probably most
associated with Orange Mound and Melrose is that
of 1969 graduate, Larry Finch, Memphis State
University basketball’s all-time leading scorer when he
graduated from there in 1973. Finch returned to Memphis
State thirteen years later. There he would go on to win more
games as the Tiger’s head coach than any other in
the school’s history. Larry Finch never left the
community where he grew up, but even for those
who moved away, the bonds formed during their
years at Melrose are not easily broken. There are
four alumni chapters across the country: In Memphis, in
Atlanta, in Los Angeles, and in Chicago. And I chair the Atlanta Melrose
High School Alumni committee, as well…So you’re
always connected, you always get an
opportunity to serve, whether you’re in a leadership
position or whether you’re a servant. If someone calls you and
they say “Melrose needs ‘X, ” or “Melrose needs
‘Y,'” we respond. Roy
McLemore was my band director. He visited me here in
my office recently, and he’s giving me a
hard time, you know, “Hello, Mr. CEO,” but, to
him, I’m still that sax student. It
would have been a curse to have gone to another high school,
living in this community, because everybody you
knew went to Melrose. Even the teachers in the
elementary and junior high schools, they all
went to Melrose, and their children
went to Melrose, and grandchildren, so everybody
you ran into went to Melrose. So as a child, that was one
of things I knew I had to do, I had to go to Melrose. In 1972, Melrose
High School moved to its present location on Deaderick Avenue. Other schools were opened
for first through eighth grade students and classes in the
Dallas Street building ended. When plans for building a new
community center in its place were unveiled, neighborhood
residents fought to save the historic structure. As one of the few
surviving examples of Art Modern institutional
architecture in the city, the building’s plight attracted
the interest of the Memphis Landmarks Commission, which
joined with the Orange Mound activists to save the
schoolhouse from demolition. Those people were strong. They would go down and voice
their opinions to the mayors, “You just don’t do
this to Orange Mound.” That’s the thing
about people that go to Melrose: they stick together. They can stick together. It’s like glue. Mrs. Alcine Arnez, she is the one who fought so
diligently to make sure that the historic Melrose school
building was not torn down. Very, very civic involved. She had cancer and passed
away but she was very active, that’s why I am so passionate
about us fulfilling her dream about creating something in
that building and not tearing it down. Current plans are
in the works to convert the building into a senior living
center and heritage museum. Ultimately, the Orange
Mound Community Service Center, with its heated pool,
variety of activity rooms, and computer labs, was
built around the corner on Park Avenue. Today, the center’s gymnasium
occupies land once used by the earlier, eleven-room
Rosenwald School built in 1918. In the fall of 2011, the
Smithsonian Institute selected the Orange Mound Community
Center to be the only urban venue in the state to host its
traveling museum series “The Way We Worked.” Along what had been the carriage
entrance to the Deaderick house, though not at first an
official part of Orange Mound, Carnes Avenue became home
for ambitious shop owners who supplied the daily needs
of the growing community. It was
almost like a city in itself to people who lived there. Even though economically it has
never had that kind of economic clout that you see in
a lot of communities, just on being able to
meet the basic needs. Even as new businesses
opened on Park Avenue to compete for customers, Carnes continued
in its role as an important commercial district well
into the nineteen sixties. On Carnes Avenue
there were African American businesses. Mr. Barksdale had his jewelry
shop…there were beauty shops always…cafes and
restaurants…and of course there were white-owned
businesses like Evensky’s. My father, Milton Evensky, came home from
World War Two – he was in Europe in the Army — and they
got married in 1942, he went overseas, came back, and
he wanted to work for himself. So he managed to find a little
business on Carnes Avenue. There was a store, and
originally there was one room attached to the
store, a kitchen, and a bathroom, so therefore
they had a place to live as well as to open up a business. And that’s why they chose to
move to Orange Mound rather than downtown Memphis. They
had everything in there that anybody could want to buy and
they always kept Melrose school colors. We had a great childhood. I was blood-sisters
with my neighbor. Her mother was a schoolteacher. So I was living in a
neighborhood with all kinds of people — educated, uneducated. In 1960, Evensky’s
moved to its current address on Park Avenue. People
have been coming in here for forty and fifty years
and still come in here. Kids that grew up in the area
still come in here from time to time. Never thought about closing it,
never thought about moving it. It’s just something we
never thought about. I’m gonna moan
right on that shore Right on that shore Lord, I’m gonna moan
Right on that shore I’m gonna moan for my Jesus Jesus I’m
gonna moan In 1879, at a corner of the Deaderick
plantation called Greer’s Bottom, a small group of African
Americans founded a new church. With an abundance of
spirit but a shortage of cash, for the first few years the
congregation of Mount Pisgah C.M.E. Church held services in a small
clearing under a makeshift brush arbor. At about the same time
and a few miles away, a group of baptists began
worshipping under similar circumstances as the
first congregation of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. When
you start worshiping God, the weather becomes a
non-factor for you. So even though in
wintertime you would be cold, people would still
just give God to Glory. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! With as many as twenty
or more churches within its borders at any given time and
several that are more than one hundred years old, the Orange
Mound story has always been rooted in worship. Holy, holy, holy! Our
churches were seen as hubs of the community so when anything
went on in the community it came through and filtered through the
churches and then went out to the community. …blessed Trinity! One
of the aspects about black church life is that it does not
segregate the spiritual and the secular… we don’t preach to the soul and
forget to feed the mouth and the stomach, or forget to
educate the head and the heart. It all goes together. A dozen years
after their simple beginnings, as African American homes began
appearing on streets carved from the former Deaderick plantation,
the congregations of Mt. Moriah Baptist and Mt.
Pisgah C.M.E. followed. For the next thirty years,
the two churches would feed the mouths and educate the minds of
Orange Mound residents with ever larger facilities
until, in 1926, Mt. Moriah moved into its
present location at the corner of Carnes
and David. In 1929, Mt. Pisgah finished
construction on its own building at Park and
Marechalneil. Except for a brief period for
repair after a fire seriously damaged Mt. Pisgah’s sanctuary,
those buildings have been home to their respective
congregations since. I was
married here and my daughter was married here. And, actually, my mother was
married here when she married my stepfather. A few blocks away at
the corner of Douglas and Grand, Beulah Baptist Church would
establish its own reputation as a community church through
active involvement in the civil rights movement and support of
the Orange Mound Day Nursery. Designed from the start to be
a safe daytime environment for children of working
parents with limited means, prior to approval for federal
subsidy in the early nineteen seventies, the center’s primary
support came through fundraising efforts led by Beulah Baptist. Its mission also attracted
the help of numerous charitable organizations and prominent
Memphians such as Elvis Presley and Nat Buring, whose $225,000
donation in 1970 gave the center a new home, and a new name. In 1987, the Nat Buring Orange
Mound Day Nursery became the first center in Memphis to
receive national accreditation. I have a
little book was given to me And every page spelled liberty From the pulpits, messages of deliverance from Jim
Crow darkness reached members’ ears in equal measure to
those of divine salvation. When
someone came to speak regarding the issues of the day, they
didn’t go to City Hall — they couldn’t go to City Hall. They came to a black church. The churches in
this neighborhood, especially Mt. Moriah at the
time, and even Beulah, Mt. Pisgah CME, some of the main
churches in this community were used as platform areas for
people to come and speak and to share the
information that was going on. All my trials, The
church became a powerhouse whereby they could speak
and the people would listen, and the pastor was one
of the focal points. I think about some of the voter
registration that took place. It really was within
the black churches, and from the community, they
would go around knocking on doors, “Have you
registered to vote?” and try to make sure to
get them to the polls. So all of these things took
place within the churches that were in the heart
of the community. And when you have a
church community that is in a sense isolated in an
area all of its own, you get that cohesion between
the church and the community. Sixty years of
building that cohesion within Orange Mound resulted in a
well-organized community network poised to help elevate
Memphis politics above its segregationist past. I could make five
phone calls and touch every house in the community on
a street-by-street basis. We had street
captains, block captains, the whole who were enthusiastic
about their responsibilities. And when they received a call to
contact the people that they had responsibility for, they did and
we could make a turn out which was in incredible
proportions for this community. Although calling it
home for more than forty years, Fred Davis did not
grow up in Orange Mound. Somebody offered me
a job working for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company,
which at that time was the largest Black
business in America. So, they assigned me a debit
in Orange Mound…As a result I eventually moved out here and I
got to know the community very well. Vice President of
the Orange Mound Civic Club even before moving to
the neighborhood, Davis also became a member of
the Shelby County Democratic Club. The Shelby County
Democratic Club participated in all kinds of elections: for
the school board elections, for the city elections,
for county elections, for the state representatives. …The first black
state representative since Reconstruction
was elected — A.W. Willis, there’s a bridge named
after him — then later on H.T. Lockhart, who was a lawyer,
was elected to the County Commission. Gradually we started making
inroads into the elective process of this county. In 1967, Davis
moved to Orange Mound, where he opened the first
general agency in the country owned and operated by
an African American. The same year he
moved to Orange Mound, Davis was elected to represent
District Four on the Memphis City Council and,
on January 1, 1972, he became the first African
American to serve as Council Chairman. Other members of Orange Mound
would follow Davis into public service, each one building on
the community’s reputation for civic involvement. In 1978, just six years after
Davis became council chairman, Harper Brewer was selected as
the first African American ever to serve as Speaker pro tem
of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Our community was
recognized when my mother and I were selected for the Whitehouse
Community Leaders program. As a part of that selection we
had an opportunity to speak on behalf of the
community: the projects, the people, and the passions. And that was an amazing
experience that we had an opportunity to connect with
various partners and agencies. The schools and
the churches have been the major factors. And then, there have been
several businesses that have been there forever. Fred Davis has always
been in the community, never left, and he’s active
in the church as well as his business. There’s several “meat and
three’s” that have been around there for awhile. In true
American fashion, the lunch counters of eateries
such as the Orange Mound Grill, first opened in 1947,
became ad hoc community forums. One such establishment became so
associated with public meeting that its owner was given the
honorary title “Mayor of Orange Mound.” I was
participating in a lot of activities, a lot of
committees, in Orange Mound, that was going on. And whenever they would
have the different meetings, or we were trying to
get something passed, or there was something we
would have to go and fight for, I used to be there. It was just a good
history-making place down there. All the
politicians would come in. Like Steve Cohen, he used
to come in all the time. Best hamburgers,
I think ever in Memphis, even better than my
buddy Boggs’ “Huey Burger, Tyler Burgers were the best. I know some people
liked the sausages more, and I know there were a
lot of fans of the sausages, but I like the Tyler Burgers. Ford used to
come in there all the time, and we’d sit down and talk. Born in 1929 and
raised just two blocks from his current home on Marechalneil,
Glover was already well known for his civic involvement
before opening his restaurant. It was kind of the
center spot for Melrose alumns and Melrose students. There was always a lot of
memorabilia on the walls, of Melrose historic occasions. That’s
just Orange Mound. Orange Mound was just like that
and that’s why I love it and never left it and I know I’m
not going to leave it now. In 1947, a short
distance from Melrose Stadium, Memphis businessman Kemmons
Wilson opened a new movie house for African Americans. Billed as a “showcase for the
finest in Negro entertainment, W.C. Handy Theater also doubled
as a venue for the leading R&B and jazz orchestras of the time. When they
built the Handy it was really just the place to go and that’s
where a lot of big bands came. Lionel Hampton, Count
Basie, Nat King Cole, all the big bands came so
we got a chance to the W.C. Handy Theater and that
was exciting for us. And then on Tuesday
nights, I believe, they had amateur night. Not long
after the theater opened, Riley King
hitchhiked from Indianola, Mississippi, to Memphis. With little more than the cloths
on his back and a thirty-dollar guitar, King found his way to
the Orange Mound home of his cousin, blues great Bukka White. Soon, the man
better known as “B. B. King” was electrifying crowds
with his unique guitar style from the stage of the W.C.
Handy Theater. Not all performers had to
travel so far to play there. A few blocks away
on Hamilton Street, a young Melrose trumpeter began
forming his own band when he was just fourteen. Within a few years the Willie
Mitchell band was well known in the community and frequent
performers on the Handy stage. In 1959, Mitchell
joined Hi Records, where he produced twenty-eight
gold and platinum recordings for the likes of Ike
and Tina Turner, Anne Peebles, and Al
Green, among others, and is recognized as one of the
creators of what became known around the world as
the “Memphis Sound.” Handy Theater closed in 1955. It would re-open
from time to time, and even host other
top acts of their day, but never again
achieved its former glory. In the nineteen sixties the
theater had a brief run as the Showcase Lounge. One of the regular acts, a
popular soul group from the Stax Records label
called the Bar Kays, had direct ties to Orange Mound. I was, I
think, nine years old. I met this boy who was my
age more or less who lived, not next door, but
the next house over. His name was Blair. You know, real
good British name, “Blair Cunningham,” or, as we
would say in the neighborhood, “Blair Cunnin’ ham.” I found out that first day that
Blair was the youngest of ten brothers, all of
whom were drummers, the next to oldest of
whom was Carl Cunningham, who was the original
drummer of the Bar Keys, which is a Stax phenomena. And I knew exactly
who the Bar Kays were, and I was, like “Really?” Not only that, his brother had
perished in the plane crash with Otis Redding, so he was famous
on a few different levels. And so, to meet Blair
and to hang out with him, and even to go back there and
sit behind the drums where his brother used to
practice was huge. Fast forward, I’m living in
Paris in 1991 and Blair is living in England. I got a chance to go over there
and visit him and I thought, wow, look at this, here we
are two kids from Orange Mound. I’m living in Paris touring with
Whitney Houston and he’s living in England playing with Chrissy
Hind of the Pretenders and Paul McCartney — and Charday
eventually — and I thought Wow… Wade in the water
Wade in the water children Wade in the water God’s going to
trouble the water Eighty years after Alice
Speggins paid forty dollars for a small lot on Park Avenue,
legalized segregation was no more. Ironically, in the
absence of that which, in many respects, had been
the reason for Orange Mound’s existence, the once-stable
community that has witnessed generations who lived their
entire life within a few square blocks began seeing empty
houses along its streets. Wade
in the Water… People never come in with the intentions of staying, it’s a
always a temporary thing…”We just gonna be here till
we can get on our feet, then we’re going
somewhere else, and they stay longer but
they never come with a sense of community. So when the negative stuff comes
in sometimes it’s with drugs or whatever, sometimes
they bring that with them. As you move people out, you tear down
houses, you rebuild, you change the
structure and so on, it’s got to go through what
history dictates that it goes through. …in the water
children Wade in the water In the water But a
community that produced legends in the arts,
pathbreaking politicians, and nationally acclaimed leaders
in business and medicine, would not forsake what their
parents had built any time soon. You have
your churches, got your strong
families, the schools. That element is still
there, it’s a viable community. The schools are still there. Hanley is still there, probably
one of the best elementary schools, a lot of people
don’t know about it but it’s an excellent elementary school. Melrose has its
problems but it, too, is seen to be a community school
and people are trying to keep it going and they take pride in it. There’s a
very good sense of place, of belonging, and of community. The principals in the Orange
Mound neighborhood are looking for something special
for their students. We have three grants that
have supported the Orange Mound program. There are a number of schools
who are open to what we are doing. Hanley Elementary,
Dunbar Elementary, Cherokee and Bethel Grove are
all within a few blocks of each other and the principals
have a very tight network. So for us to engage children, we
have to go through the schools. We know they’re going to be in
school — almost all the time — we know that Memphis
Leadership Foundation, another supporter of the Orange
Mound Program will go pick up these children at school and
deliver them home to their front doors. So there are a lot of natural
things that made this a very attractive partnership. We try to train
every individual that comes through our doors. We show them the pros and
cons of home ownership, it also shows them a way to help
enhance their quality of life. When you
step inside the boundaries, and look beyond the boarded-up
buildings that you might see today, that standing on the
shoulders was an amazing group of people who made it possible
for people to be educated, for people to find great,
progressive jobs in Corporate America, for people to find
great success as entrepreneurs, across all kinds of industries. Love for
Orange Mound is still here. Even though we have
experienced some changes, I really believe that seed
that’s been planted is still growing; it’s still flourishing. When people
think of Orange Mound, Tennessee — they do
think of Orange Mound, Tennessee — Orange
Mound is a special place. It is almost – it’s
considered a city unto itself. And as long as Orange Mound
has that special flavor and that pride of “Orange
Mound, Tennessee, Orange Mound will
continue to prosper. I think
Melrose and Orange Mound have a advantage in that the
two are locked at the hip, joined at the hip, and we have
that advantage over most places. You’re not going to do to one
unless you do to the other. They come as a set. Who may be
living right under your nose? Who may be living in that little
neighborhood that you drive past and you try to speed up
when you’re going past it? You never know what kind of
seeds of greatness or raw diamonds could be in
that neighborhood.

22 thoughts on “A Community Called Orange Mound – Feb. 4, 2013

  1. Is time for the black African Americans in orange mound to rebuild orange mound and. And make it a better community again love on the mound from the. Hall family

  2. Born n raised n my hood Orange Mound, Tn, and my school Melrose High.   Home of the Golden Wildcats. Select ST.

  3. The music from "American Trilogy" ( the third part) at the end was inspiring and sad at the same time.  Check out the performance of this song by Mickey Newbury.

  4. Please tell the Orange Mound community what COGIC Elder Sir William G. McCrary the Third about the very rude, ignorant and disparaging remarks he made about Orange Mound Grill owner's daughter and the city of Memphis just this past weekend while in Memphis during a COGIC event. You may observe this religious hypocrite and flaming church sissy's disturbing videos on the Facebook channel Heathen Central.

  5. thank you for this informative account of Orange Mound. I lived in the next community over called Magnolia and we had a choice to pick either Hamilton or Melrose and we chose Melrose. I am so very glad we did even though Hamilton is a very fine school too. at Melrose I met the most wonderful friends an people I could ask for. exceptional teachers who cared about you. principals who would get on you for tardiness. students hung out at hamburger place on park an the food was great. I lived next door to Ronnie Robinson so you know I was proud to tell people that. even the popular kids weren't snobbish about it. everybody fit in. my class was the last and largest ever that graduated from the old Melrose. record. so I was proud of that too. thanks Orange Mound for the many memories and love you gave me. you will always be like home to me.

  6. Born and raised on marechalneil street!! Im still there wit my moma and dont ever plan on leaving it!! I love the mound!!!!

  7. Kennedy McKinney was the FIRST OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST FIR MELROSE…CLASS OF 1984 ALONG WITH Rochelle Stevens 84' and Sheila Echols 82'…

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