Memphis Historic Sites
Memphis Historic Sites are the stuff of legend. A slave auction block and major Underground Railroad Station are at and near downtown. Two of the largest black church congregations were founded here. A rich black man saved the town from bankruptcy. Its hard to imagine the Civil Rights Movement without the many levels of Memphis involvement, passion and determination after tragedy.
DESCRIPTION: Site of the first food market in Memphis. Since slave trade was a large common practice in Memphis, many believe the granite marker in the square was used for slave auctioning.
ADDRESS: Auction Street at Main Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Burkle Estate, Slavehaven
DESCRIPTION: A white painted no frills, wooden house built in 1849 served as one of Memphis’ most important stations on the Underground Railroad. By appointment, you can tour the cellar where people hid on the way to freedom.
ADDRESS: 826 North Second Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Tom Lee Memorial
DESCRIPTION: In 1925, Tom Lee, an African-American who could not swim, risked his life in a small boat to rescue 32 Anglo-Americans from a sinking steamship 25 miles south of here. In gratitude, this monument and scenic riverside park were named in his honor. It is a frequent gathering place for picnics and kite flying.
ADDRESS: Riverside Drive south of Beale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
WDIA Radio Station
DESCRIPTION: In 1948 WDIA 1070 AM became America’s first white-owned radio station reformatted to appeal to African Americans musical interests — with Blues, R&B, Rock & Roll, Soul Music. It helped popularize the recordings of Rufus Thomas, B.B. King, Ike & Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Bobby Blues Bland and many others. Unexpectedly, the station also became popular to Anglo-American youths, triggering the realization (and concern in some quarters) that “Race Music” had wide spread cross-over appeal.
ADDRESS: 47 Union Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Universal Life Insurance Company
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1923 by Dr Joseph E. Walker. African-American architects, McKissack & McKissack designed the Egyptian Revival-style building. It is one of the nation’s largest black-owned insurance companies.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 9a-5p; tour by appointment only
ADDRESS: 480 Linden Avenue, Memphis, TN MAP
Joseph E. Walker Residence
DESCRIPTION: Dr. Joseph E. Walker (1880-1958), co-founder of Universal Life Insurance, co-founder of Tri-State Bank and co-founder of Memphis Urban League branch, lived in the this ordinary house. He served as president of all those entities. No visitors.
ADDRESS: 1109 Mississippi Blvd, Memphis, TN MAP
DESCRIPTION: Built mostly with the labor of enslaved people in 1828, several Civil War generals from the north and south made it an important stop in their travels. An on-site school was used to teach several hundred people how to read English by the Freedmen’s Bureau after their Emancipation.
ADDRESS: 533 Beale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
W.C. Handy Home
DESCRIPTION: This tiny two room home has William C. Handy’s artifacts on display. Imagine him writing famous tunes here while his wife helped raise 6 kids. No wonder he penned Memphis Blues, the first recorded composition of the Blues.
DAYS & HOURS: daily, hours vary
ADDRESS: 352 Beale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Ida B. Wells Marker
DESCRIPTION: Named in honor of a journalist, civil and women’s rights advocate who spoke truth to power, Wells newspaper building was located in this vicinity before it was burned to the ground. Though she had to flee Memphis, her written achievements have far outlived her oppressors.
ADDRESS: 300 block of Beale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Old Daisy Theatre
DESCRIPTION: A prime performing venue in the Chitlin’ Circuit from the 1930s-60s. Until recently, it served as the Beale Street Blues Museum.
ADDRESS: 329 Beale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Tri-State Bank of Memphis
DESCRIPTION: Organized in 1946 by A Maceo Walker and John A Walker. The bank’s original building was located at 386 Beale Street, where much of Black Memphis business and civil rights planning occurred.
ADDRESS: 180 South Main Street, Memphis, TN MAP
WLOK Radio Station
DESCRIPTION: In 1977, this radio station became the first Memphis radio station owned by African-Americans. Now its A Gospel radio station and a favorite among visiting DJs.
ADDRESS: 363 South Second Street, Memphis, TN MAP
DESCRIPTION: This National Historic Landmark is where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on 4 April 1968. His second floor balcony room remains in a permanently restored state from the day he passed. Fortunately, the site was saved from the wrecking ball in 1982 by a group of citizens who got a different ball rolling; they established a foundation to raise funds for the property. Eventually, the labor union which benefited from Dr King’s last march, a Black bank, and a local merchant next door added funds to purchase this landmark property for $144,000. The foundation convinced the City of Memphis, Shelby County, state agencies and corporations to provide more funds to build a civil rights center that educates visitors about the past, present and future of the American Civil Rights Movement while preserving the hotel. Enter via the National Civil Rights Museum.
ADDRESS: 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, TN MAP
Tri-State Defender Newspaper
DESCRIPTION: Founded 1905 as part of the Sengstacke Newspaper chain based in Chicago. There is no better way to get straight talk about black life in Memphis. Located just around the corner from the Lorraine Hotel, they were the first journalists on the scene when Dr King was assassinated and thus, may have the best written accounts of what happened on that fateful day in April 1968. There is no better source to get straight talk about Black Memphis today.
ADDRESS: 124 East Calhoun Avenue, Memphis, TN MAP
DESCRIPTION: Aside from doing the “good work”, each March, the NAACP Memphis branch sponsors a major gala in the city.
ADDRESS: 588 Vance Avenue, Memphis, TN
Hayes & Sons Funeral Home
DESCRIPTION: Founded 1902, by Thomas H. Hayes Sr., it is Memphis’ oldest black-owned business. The company moved to this Lauderdale District location in 1918. Hayes was active in the National Negro Business League founded by Booker T. Washington. In 1933, he co-founded Union Protective Life Insurance Company. His son Thomas, Jr. owned the Birmingham Black Barons, of which baseball legend Willie Mays was a member.
ADDRESS: 680 South Lauderdale Street, Memphis, TN MAP
DESCRIPTION: The oldest and one of the largest cemeteries historically serving African-Americans in Memphis.
ADDRESS: South Parkway East at Pillow Streets, Memphis, TN MAP
Alex Haley House and Museum
DESCRIPTION: Alex Haley, author of Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, descended from Kunte Kinte and Chicken George. Lots of family memorabilia to be seen here. It is located 55 miles from Memphis.
DAYS &HOURS: Tue-Sat 10a-5p; Sun 1p-5p
ADMISSION: small fee
ADDRESS: 200 Church Street, Henning, TN MAP