Memphis, Tennessee facts for kids

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Memphis, Tennessee
City
City of Memphis
From top to bottom and left to right: Downtown Memphis skyline, Beale Street, Graceland, Memphis Pyramid, Beale Street Landing, and the Hernando de Soto Bridge
From top to bottom and left to right: Downtown Memphis skyline, Beale Street, Graceland, Memphis Pyramid, Beale Street Landing, and the Hernando de Soto Bridge
Flag of Memphis, Tennessee
Flag
Official seal of Memphis, Tennessee
Seal
Nickname(s): The Bluff City, The River City, Blues City, The M, MEM, Birthplace of Rock and Roll, The BBQ Capital of the World
Location in Shelby County and state of Tennessee.
Location in Shelby County and state of Tennessee.
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Shelby
Founded May 22, 1819
Incorporated December 19, 1826
Named for Memphis, Egypt
Area
 • City 324.0 sq mi (839.2 km2)
 • Land 315.1 sq mi (816.0 km2)
 • Water 9.0 sq mi (23.2 km2)
Elevation 337 ft (103 m)
Population (2010)
 • City 646,889
 • Estimate (2015) 655,770
 • Rank US: 23rd
 • Density 1,996.47/sq mi (770.84/km2)
 • Urban 1,060,061 (US: 41st)
 • Metro 1,341,746 (US: 41st)
 • Demonym Memphian
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC−5)
ZIP Codes
Area code 901
FIPS code 47-48000
Interstates I-22.svg I-40.svg I-55.svg I-69.svg
Interstate Spurs I-240.svg I-269.svg I-555.svg
U.S. Routes US 51.svg US 61.svg US 64.svg US 70.svg US 72.svg US 78.svg US 79.svg
Major State Routes Tennessee 385.svg
Waterways Mississippi River, Wolf River
Public transit MATA
Website City of Memphis

Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers.

Memphis had a population of 653,450 in 2013, making it the largest city in the state of Tennessee. It is the largest city on the Mississippi River, the third largest in the greater Southeastern United States, and the 23rd largest in the United States. The greater Memphis metropolitan area, including adjacent counties in Mississippi and Arkansas, had a 2014 population of 1,317,314. This makes Memphis the second-largest metropolitan area in Tennessee, surpassed by metropolitan Nashville.

Memphis is the youngest of Tennessee's major cities, founded in 1819 as a planned city by a group of wealthy Americans including judge John Overton and future president Andrew Jackson. A resident of Memphis is referred to as a Memphian, and the Memphis region is known, particularly to media outlets, as Memphis and the Mid-South.

History

Early history

Occupying a substantial bluff rising from the Mississippi River, the site of Memphis has been a natural location for human settlement by varying cultures over thousands of years. would encounter the Chickasaw in that area, in the 16th century.

J.D.L. Holmes, writing in Hudson's Four Centuries of Southern Indians, notes that there was a third strategic point in the late 18th century through which European powers could control American encroachment and their interference with Indian matters—after Fort Nogales (present day Vicksburg) and Fort Confederación (present day Epes, Alabama): "...Chickasaw Bluffs, located on the Mississippi River at the present day location of Memphis. Spain and the United States vied for control of this site, which was a favorite of the Chickasaws." In 1795 the Spanish Governor-General of Louisiana, de Carondelet sent his Lieutenant Governor, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, to negotiate and secure consent from local Chickasaw inhabitants so that a Spanish fort could be erected; Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas was the result. Holmes goes on to note that the consent was reached despite opposition from "disappointed Americans and a pro-American faction of the Chickasaws", when the "pro-Spanish faction signed the Chickasaw Bluffs Cession and Spain provided the Chickasaws with a trading post…".

Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas remained a focal point of Spanish activity until, as Holmes summarizes:

[T]he Treaty of San Lorenzo or Pinckney's Treaty of 1795 [implemented in March 1797], [had as its result that] all of the careful, diplomatic work by Spanish officials in Louisiana and West Florida, which has succeeded for a decade in controlling the Indians [e.g., the Choctaws], was undone. The United States gained the right to navigate the Mississippi River and won control over the Yazoo Strip north of the thirty-first parallel.

The Spanish dismantled the fort, shipping its lumber and iron to their locations in Arkansas.

In 1796, the site became the westernmost point of the newly admitted state of Tennessee, located in the Southwest United States but the area was largely occupied and controlled by the Chickasaw nation. Captain Isaac Guion led an American force down the Ohio River to claim the land, arriving on July 20, 1797. By this time, the Spanish had departed. The fort's ruins went unnoticed twenty years later when Memphis was laid out as a city, after the United States government paid the Chickasaw for land.

19th century

Memphis Tennessee 1850s
Memphis in the mid-1850s

The city of Memphis was founded on May 22, 1819 (incorporated December 19, 1826) by John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson. They named it after the ancient capital of Egypt on the Nile River. Memphis developed as a trade and transportation center in the 19th century because of its flood-free location high above the Mississippi River. Located in the low-lying delta region along the river, its outlying areas were developed as cotton plantations, and the city became a major cotton market and brokerage center.

The cotton economy of the antebellum South depended on the forced labor of large numbers of African-American slaves, and Memphis also developed as a major slave market for the domestic slave trade. Through the early 19th century, one million slaves were transported from the Upper South, in a huge forced migration to newly developed plantation areas. Many were transported by steamboats along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 1857, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was completed, connecting the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina and this major Mississippi River port; it was the only east-west railroad constructed across the southern states prior to the Civil War. This gave planters and cotton brokers access to the Atlantic Coast for shipping cotton to England, a major market.

The city's demographics changed dramatically in the 1850s and 1860s under waves of immigration and domestic migration. Due to increased immigration since the 1840s and the Great Famine, ethnic Irish made up 9.9 percent of the population in 1850, but 23.2 percent in 1860, when the total population was 22,623. They had encountered considerable discrimination in the city but by 1860, the Irish constituted most of the police force. They also gained many elected and patronage positions in the Democratic Party city government, and an Irish man was elected as mayor before the Civil War. At that time, representatives were elected to the city council from 30 wards. The elite were worried about corruption in this system and that so many saloonkeepers were active in the wards. German immigrants also made this city a destination following the 1848 revolutions; both the Irish and Germans were mostly Catholic, adding another element to demographic change in this formerly Protestant city.

Forrest Memphis Raid
Attack on Irving Block by General Forrest in 1864

Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, and Memphis briefly became a Confederate stronghold. Union ironclad gunboats captured the city in the naval Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, and the city and state were occupied by the Union Army for the duration of the war. The Union Army commanders allowed the city to maintain its civil government during most of this period but excluded Confederate veterans from office, which shifted political dynamics in the city as the war went on. As Memphis was used as a Union supply base, associated with nearby Fort Pickering, it continued to prosper economically throughout the war. Meanwhile, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest harassed Union forces in the area.

The war years contributed to additional dramatic changes in city population. The presence of the Union Army attracted many fugitive slaves who escaped from surrounding rural plantations. So many sought protection behind Union lines that the Army set up contraband camps to accommodate them. The black population of Memphis increased from 3,000 in 1860, when the total population was 22,623, to nearly 20,000 in 1865, with most settling south of what was then the city limits. The white population was also increasing, but not to the same degree. The total population in 1870 was 40,220, after thousands of blacks had left the city; they numbered 15,000 that year, or 37.4% of the total.(See census table in Demographics section.)

Postwar years, Reconstruction and Democratic control

The rapid demographic changes, added to the stress of war and occupation, and uncertainty about who was in charge, resulted in growing tensions between the Irish policemen and black Union soldiers following the war. In three days of rioting in early May 1866, the Memphis Riot erupted, in which white mobs made up of policemen, firemen, and other mostly ethnic Irish, attacked and killed 46 blacks, wounding 75 and injuring 100 persons; destroyed nearly 100 houses while severely damaging churches and schools in South Memphis. Much of the settlement was left in ruins. Many blacks permanently fled Memphis after the riot, especially as the Freedmen's Bureau continued to have difficulty in protecting them. Their population fell to about 15,000 by 1870, or 37.5% of the city, which then had a total population of 40,226. (See census table in Demographics section.)

Memphis airview 1870
Historic aerial view of Memphis, 1870

Historian Barrington Walker suggests that the Irish rioted against blacks because of their relatively recent arrival as immigrants and the uncertain nature of their own claim to "whiteness"; they were trying to separate themselves from blacks in the underclass. The main fighting participants were ethnic Irish, decommissioned black Union soldiers, and newly emancipated freedmen from the African-American community. Walker suggests that most of the mob were not in direct economic conflict with the blacks, as by then the Irish had attained better jobs, but the Irish were establishing dominance over the freedmen.

In Memphis, unlike disturbances in some other cities, ex-Confederate veterans were generally not part of the attacks against blacks. The outrages of the riot in Memphis and a similar one in New Orleans in September (the latter did include Confederate veterans) resulted in support in the North for Congress to pass the Reconstruction Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the 1870s, a series of yellow fever epidemics devastated Memphis, with the disease being carried by river passengers along the waterways. During the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 in Memphis, Tennessee, more than 5000 people were listed in the official register of deaths between July 26 and November 27. The vast majority of them died of yellow fever, making the epidemic in the city of 40,000 people one of the most traumatic and severe in urban United States' history. Within four days of the Memphis Board of Health's declaration of a yellow fever outbreak, 20,000 residents had fled the city. The panic ensuing left the poverty-stricken, the working classes, and the African American community at the disposal of the epidemic. Those who remained in Memphis relied on volunteers from religious and physician organizations to tend to the sick. By the end of the year, more than 5,000 were confirmed dead in Memphis. The New Orleans health board listed "not less than 4,600" dead. The Mississippi Valley experienced 120,000 cases of yellow fever, with 20,000 deaths. The $15 million in losses caused by the epidemic bankrupted the city of Memphis, and as a result their charter was revoked.

AmCyc Memphis (Tennessee)
Woodcut representing the waterfront of Memphis, c. 1879

By 1870, Memphis's population of 40,000 was almost double that of Nashville and Atlanta, ranking it second only to New Orleans as the largest city in the South. The population of Memphis continued to grow after 1870, even when the panic of 1873 hit the US, particularly the South, very hard. The panic of 1873 allowed Memphis's underclasses to swell amidst the poverty and hardship the panic wrought, giving further credence to Memphis being a rough, shiftless city. Also, Memphis had a reputation for being a dirty city leading up to outbreak in 1878. Two yellow fever epidemics, cholera and malaria had given Memphis a reputation as a sickly city and a filthy one. It was unheard of for a city with a population as large as the one in Memphis to have no waterworks—the city still relied entirely on the river and rain cisterns to collect water, and there was no way to remove sewage. The combination of a swelling population, especially of lower and working classes, and the abysmal health and sanitary conditions of Memphis made the city ripe for a serious epidemic.

The first case to go on record for the public was when Mrs. Kate Bionda, an owner of an Italian "snack house", died of the fever on August 13. Hers was officially reported by the Board of Health, on August 14, as the first case of yellow fever in the city. A massive panic ensued. The same trains and steamboats that brought thousands into Memphis now carried away over 25,000 Memphians, more than half of the population, in a span of five days. On August 23, the Board of Health finally declared a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, and the city collapsed, hemorrhaging its population. In July of that year, the city boasted a population of 47,000. By September, 19,000 remained and 17,000 of them had yellow fever. The only people left in the city were the lower classes, like the German and Irish immigrant workers, and African Americans. Neither of these two groups had the capacity to flee the city like the middle and upper class whites of Memphis, and thus they were subjected to a city of death.

Immediately following the Board of Health's declaration, a Citizen's Relief Committee was formed by Charles G. Fisher, and proceeded to organize the city into refugee camps. The committee's main priority was separating the poor from the city and isolating them into refugee camps. Also, the Howard Association, formed specifically for yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans and Memphis, organized nurses and doctors within Memphis and throughout the country in response to the outbreak. They stayed at the Peabody Hotel, the only hotel to keep its doors open during the epidemic (Crosby 60), and from there were assigned to their respective infected districts. Physicians of the epidemic reported seeing as many as 100 to 150 patients daily. The sisters of St. Mary's Hospital played an important role during the epidemic caring for the lower classes. Already home to a girls' school and church orphanage, the sisters of St. Mary's also sought to provide care for the Canfield Asylum, a home for black children. Each day, the sisters alternated caring for the orphans at St. Mary's, delivering children to the Canfield Asylum and taking soup and medicine on house calls to patients. Between September 9 and October 4, Sister Constance and three other Sisters fell victim to the epidemic themselves. They later became known as "The Martyrs of Memphis."

At long last, on October 28, a killing frost fell, and a message was sent to Memphians scattered all over the country to come home. Though yellow fever cases would continue to appear in the pages of Elmwood Cemetery's burial record as late as February 29, the epidemic itself seemed quieted. The Board of Health declared the epidemic, which caused over 20,000 deaths and financial losses of nearly $200 million, at an end. On November 27, a general citizen's meeting was called at the Greenlaw Opera House to offer thanks to those who had stayed behind to serve and die. Over the next year property tax revenues collapsed, and the city could not make payments on its municipal debts. As a result of this crisis, Memphis temporarily lost its city charter and was reclassified by the state legislature as a Taxing District from 1878–1893. Despite the unfortunately losing its charter and 75% of its population, a new era of sanitation arose in Memphis. A new municipal government in 1879 helped form the first regional health organization and during the 1880s led the nation in sanitary reform and improvements.

Perhaps the most significant effect the yellow fever had on Memphis was its demographic changes. Nearly all of Memphis's upper and middle classes vanished, depriving the city of its general leadership and class structure that dictated everyday life similar to other large Southern Cities like New Orleans, Charleston, and Atlanta. This put Memphis in a unique position, one in which poorer whites and blacks fundamentally made up the city and played the greatest role in reestablishing the city. The epidemic had made Memphis a less cosmopolitan place, with an economy that serviced the cotton trade and a population drawn increasingly from poor white and black southerners.

The 1890 election was strongly contested, resulting in opponents of the D. P. Hadden faction working to deprive them of votes by disenfranchising blacks. The state had enacted several laws, including the requirement of poll taxes, that served to disenfranchise many blacks. Although political party factions in the future sometimes paid poll taxes to enable blacks to vote, African Americans lost their last positions on the city council in this election and were forced out of the police force. (They did not recover the ability to exercise the franchise until after passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.) Historian L. B. Wrenn suggests the heightened political hostility of the Democratic contest and related social tensions contributed to a white mob lynching three black grocers in Memphis in 1892. Journalist Ida B. Wells of Memphis investigated the lynchings, as one of the men killed was a friend of hers. She demonstrated that these and other lynchings were more often due to economic and social competition than any criminal offenses by black men. Her findings were so controversial and aroused so much anger that she was forced to move away from the city, although she continued to investigate and publish the abuses of lynching.

Businessmen were eager to increase city population after the losses of 1878–79, and supported annexation of new areas to the city; this was passed in 1890 before the census. The annexation measure was finally approved by the state legislature through a compromise achieved with real estate magnates, and the area annexed was slightly smaller than first proposed.

In 1893 the city was rechartered with home rule, which restored its ability to enact taxes, although the state legislature established a cap rate. Although commission government was retained and enlarged to five commissioners, Democratic politicians regained control from the business elite. The commission form of government was believed effective in getting things done, but it reduced representation of the city's full population.

20th century

Union Avenue
Cotton merchants on Union Avenue (1937)

In terms of its economy, Memphis developed as the world's largest spot cotton market and the world's largest hardwood lumber market, both commodity products of the Mississippi Delta. Into the 1950s, it was the world's largest mule market. Attracting workers from rural areas as well as new immigrants, from 1900 to 1950 the city increased nearly fourfold in population, from 102,350 to 396,000 residents.

From the 1910s to the 1950s, Memphis was a place of machine politics under the direction of E. H. "Boss" Crump. He gained a state law in 1911 to establish a small commission to manage the city. The city retained a form of commission government until 1967 and patronage flourished under Crump. Per the publisher's summary of L.B. Wrenn's study of the period, "This centralization of political power in a small commission aided the efficient transaction of municipal business, but the public policies that resulted from it tended to benefit upper-class Memphians while neglecting the less affluent residents and neighborhoods." The city installed a revolutionary sewer system and upgraded sanitation and drainage to prevent another epidemic. Pure water from an artesian well was discovered in the 1880s, securing the city's water supply. The commissioners developed an extensive network of parks and public works as part of the national City Beautiful movement, but did not encourage heavy industry, which might have provided substantial employment for the working-class population. The lack of representation in city government resulted in the poor and minorities being underrepresented. The majority controlled the election of all the at-large positions.

Memphis did not become a home rule city until 1963, although the state legislature had amended the constitution in 1953 to provide home rule for cities and counties. Before that, the city had to get state bills approved in order to change its charter and for other policies and programs. Since 1963, it can change the charter by popular approval of the electorate.

During the 1960s, the city was at the center of civil rights issues, as its large African-American population had been affected by state segregation practices and disenfranchisement in the early 20th century. African-American residents drew from the civil rights movement to improve their lives. In 1968 a city sanitation workers' strike began for living wages and better working conditions; the workers were overwhelmingly African American. They marched to gain public awareness and support for their plight: the danger of their work, and the struggles to support families with their low pay. Their drive for better pay had been met with resistance by the city government.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, known for his leadership in the non-violent movement, came to lend his support to the workers' cause. He stayed at the Lorraine Motel in the city, where he was assassinated by a sniper on April 4, 1968, the day after giving his prophetic I've Been to the Mountaintop speech at the Mason Temple.

Grief-stricken and enraged after learning of King's murder, many African Americans in the city rioted, looting and destroying businesses and other facilities, some by arson. The governor ordered Tennessee National Guardsmen into the city within hours, where small, roving bands of rioters continued to be active. Fearing the violence, more of the middle-class began to leave the city for the suburbs.

In 1970, the Census Bureau reported Memphis' population as 60.8% white and 38.9% black. Suburbanization was attracting wealthier residents to newer housing outside the city. After the riots and court-ordered busing in 1973 to achieve desegregation of public schools, "about 40,000 of the system's 71,000 white students abandon[ed] the system in four years." The city now has a majority-black population; the larger metropolitan area is narrowly majority white.

Memphis is well known for its cultural contributions to the identity of the American South. Many renowned musicians grew up in and around Memphis and moved to Chicago and other areas from the Mississippi Delta, carrying their music with them to influence other cities and listeners over radio airwaves. These included such musical greats as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, W. C. Handy, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones, Eric Gales, Al Green, Alex Chilton, Justin Timberlake, Three 6 Mafia, the Sylvers, Jay Reatard, Zach Myers, and many others. Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis.

Geography

Memphis is located in the southwest corner of Tennessee at . According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 324.0 square miles (839.2 km2), of which 315.1 square miles (816.0 km2) is land and 9.0 square miles (23.2 km2), or 2.76%, is water.

Cityscape

Memphis Skyline from Poplar Ave
Memphis skyline as seen from Poplar Avenue (2010)

Downtown Memphis rises from a bluff along the Mississippi River. The city and metro area spread out through suburbanization, and encompass southwest Tennessee, northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas. Several large parks were founded in the city in the early 20th century, notably Overton Park in Midtown and the 4,500-acre (18 km2) Shelby Farms. The city is a national transportation hub and Mississippi River crossing for Interstate 40, (east-west), Interstate 55 (north-south), barge traffic, Memphis International Airport (FedEx's "SuperHub" facility) and numerous freight railroads that serve the city.

In both 2011 and 2012, the magazine Travel + Leisure ranked Memphis among the top ten "America's Dirtiest City", for widespread visibly littered public spaces, with unremoved trash, based on surveys by both readership and local citizens.

On a more positive note, in 2013 Forbes magazine ranked Memphis as one of the top 15 cities in the United States with an "emerging downtown" area.

Also in 2013, USA Today readers voted Beale Street as America's Best Iconic Street and Graceland as the Best Iconic American Attraction. The National Civil Rights Museum (at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Rev. Martin Luther King's assassination) ranked third in the poll of national attractions.

Riverfront

American Queen Memphis TN 2012-04-27 016
The American Queen docked at Beale Street Landing along the Memphis riverfront

The Memphis Riverfront stretches along the Mississippi River from the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in the north, to the T. O. Fuller State Park in the south. The River Walk is a park system that connects downtown Memphis from Mississippi River Greenbelt Park in the north, to Tom Lee Park in the south.

Aquifer

Shelby County is located over four natural aquifers, one of which is recognized as the "Memphis Sand Aquifer" or simply as the "Memphis Aquifer". This artesian water is pure and soft. This particular water source, located some 350 to 1,100 feet (110 to 340 m) underground, is estimated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water to contain more than 100 trillion US gallons (380 km3) of water.

Climate

Memphis has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), with four distinct seasons, and is located in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8. Winter weather comes alternately from the upper Great Plains and the Gulf of Mexico, which can lead to drastic swings in temperature. Summer weather may come from Texas (very hot and humid) or the Gulf (hot and very humid). July has a daily average temperature of 82.7 °F (28.2 °C), with high levels of humidity due to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are frequent during summer, but usually brief, lasting no longer than an hour. Early autumn is pleasantly drier and mild, but can be hot until late October. Late autumn is rainy and cooler; precipitation peaks again in November and December. Winters are mild to chilly, with a January daily average temperature of 41.2 °F (5.1 °C). Snow occurs sporadically in winter, with an average seasonal snowfall of 3.9 inches (9.9 cm). Ice storms and freezing rain pose greater danger, as they can often pull tree limbs down on power lines and make driving hazardous. Severe thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year though mainly during the spring months. Large hail, strong winds, flooding and frequent lightning can accompany these storms. Some storms spawn tornadoes.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Memphis was −13 °F (−25 °C) on December 24, 1963, and the highest temperature ever was 108 °F (42 °C) on July 13, 1980. Over the course of a year, there is an average of 4.4 days of highs below freezing, 6.9 nights of lows below 20 °F (−7 °C), 43 nights of lows below freezing, 64 days of highs above 90 °F (32 °C)+, and 2.1 days of highs above 100 °F (38 °C)+.

Annual precipitation is high (53.68 inches (1,360 mm)) and is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year, though the period August through October tends to be drier. Average monthly rainfall is especially high in March through May, November and December.

Demographics

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1850 8,841
1860 22,623 155.9%
1870 40,226 77.8%
1880 33,592 −16.5%
1890 64,495 92.0%
1900 102,320 58.6%
1910 131,105 28.1%
1920 162,351 23.8%
1930 253,143 55.9%
1940 292,942 15.7%
1950 396,000 35.2%
1960 497,524 25.6%
1970 623,988 25.4%
1980 646,174 3.6%
1990 610,337 −5.5%
2000 650,100 6.5%
2010 646,889 −0.5%
Est. 2015 655,770 0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate
Racial composition 2010 1990 1970 1950
White 29.4% 44.0% 60.8% 62.8%
 —Non-Hispanic 27.5% 43.7% 60.5% n/a
Black or African American 63.3% 54.8% 38.9% 37.2%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 6.5% 0.7% 0.4% n/a
Asian 1.6% 0.8% 0.2%

For historical population data, see: History of Memphis, Tennessee. According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, the racial composition of the city of Memphis was:

  • Black or African American: 62.6%
  • White: 31.7% (Non-Hispanic Whites: 29.5%)
  • Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 5.0%
  • Asian: 1.7%
  • Native American: 0.2%
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%
  • Some other race: 2.7%
  • Two or more races: 1.2%
Race and ethnicity 2010- Memphis (5560473024)
Map of racial distribution in Memphis, 2010 U.S. Census. Each dot is 25 people: White, Black, Asian Hispanic, or Other (yellow)

as of the 2010 United States Census, there were 652,078 people and 245,836 households in the city. The population density was 2,327.4 people per sq mi (898.6/km2). There were 271,552 housing units at an average density of 972.2 per sq mi (375.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 63.33% African American, 29.39% White, 1.46% Asian American, 1.57% Native American, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.45% from other races, and 1.04% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.49% of the population.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,285, and the median income for a family was $37,767. Males had a median income of $31,236 versus $25,183 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,838. About 17.2% of families and 20.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.1% of those under age 18, and 15.4% of those age 65 or over. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked the Memphis area as the poorest large metro area in the country. Dr. Jeff Wallace of the University of Memphis noted that the problem was related to decades of segregation in government and schools. He said that it was a low-cost job market, but other places in the world could offer cheaper labor, and the workforce was undereducated for today's challenges.

The Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the 42nd largest in the United States, has a 2010 population of 1,316,100 and includes the Tennessee counties of Shelby, Tipton and Fayette; as well as the northern Mississippi counties of DeSoto, Marshall, Tate, and Tunica; and Crittenden County, Arkansas, all part of the Mississippi Delta.

The total metropolitan area has a higher proportion of whites and a higher per capita income than the population in the city. The 2010 census shows that the Memphis metro area is close to a majority-minority population:

"the white population is 47.9 percent of the eight-county area's 1,316,100 residents. The non-Hispanic white population, a designation frequently used in census reports, was 46.2 percent of the total. The African American percentage was 45.7. For several decades, the Memphis metro area has had the highest percentage of black population among the nation's large metropolitan areas. The area has seemed on a path to become the nation's first metro area of one million or more with a majority black population."

In a reverse trend of the Great Migration, numerous African Americans and other minorities have moved into DeSoto County, and blacks have followed suburban trends, moving into the suburbs of Shelby County.

Religion

Elmwood-Asian
Asian-American tombstones in Elmwood Cemetery

An 1870 map of Memphis shows religious buildings of the Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and other Christian denominations, and a Jewish congregation. In 2009, places of worship exist for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims.

The international headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, the second-largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, is located in Memphis. Its Mason Temple was named after the denomination's founder, Charles Harrison Mason. This church is where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his noted "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in April 1968, the night before he was assassinated at his motel. The National Civil Rights Museum, located in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel and other buildings, has an annual ceremony at Mason's Temple of Deliverance where it honors persons with Freedom Awards.

Bellevue Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist megachurch in Memphis that was founded in 1903. Its current membership is around 30,000. For many years, it was led by the late Adrian Rogers, a three-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Other notable and/or large churches in Memphis include Second Presbyterian Church (EPC), Hope Presbyterian Church (EPC), Evergreen Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Colonial Park United Methodist Church, Christ United Methodist Church, Idlewild Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the Pentecostal Church (UPCI), First Baptist Broad, Temple of Deliverance, Calvary Episcopal Church, and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.

Memphis is home to two cathedrals. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Memphis, and St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.

Memphis is home to Temple Israel, a Reform synagogue that has approximately 7,000 members, making it one of the largest Reform synagogues in the country. Baron Hirsch Synagogue is the largest Orthodox shul in the United States. Jewish residents were part of the city before the Civil War, but more Jewish immigrants came from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Memphis is home to an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Muslims of various cultures and ethnicities.

A number of seminaries are located in Memphis and the metropolitan area. Memphis is home to Memphis Theological Seminary and Harding School of Theology. Suburban Cordova is home to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

Arts and culture

Cultural events

One of the largest celebrations of the city is Memphis in May. The month-long series of events promotes Memphis' heritage and outreach of its people far beyond the city's borders. The four main events are the Beale Street Music Festival, International Week, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Great River Run. The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is the largest pork barbecue-cooking contest in the world.

In April, downtown Memphis celebrates "Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival", or simply Africa in April. The festival was designed to celebrate the arts, history, culture, and diversity of the African diaspora. Africa in April is a three-day festival with vendors' markets, fashion showcases, blues showcases, and an international diversity parade.

During June, Memphis is home to the Memphis Italian Festival at Marquette Park. For over 20 years, the festival has hosted musical acts, local artisans, and Italian cooking competitions. It also presents chef demonstrations, the Coors Light Competitive Bocce Tournament, the Galtelli Cup Recreational Bocce Tournament, a volleyball tournament, and pizza tossing demonstrations.

Carnival Memphis, formerly known as the Memphis Cotton Carnival, is an annual series of parties and festivities in June that salutes various aspects of Memphis and its industries. An annual King and Queen of Carnival are secretly selected to reign over Carnival activities. From 1935 to 1982, the African-American community staged the Cotton Makers Jubilee; it has merged with Carnival Memphis.

A market and arts festival, the Cooper-Young Festival, is held annually in September in the Cooper-Young district of Midtown Memphis. The event draws artists from all over North America and includes local music, art sales, contests, and displays.

Memphis sponsors several film festivals: the Indie Memphis Film Festival, Outflix, and the Memphis International Film and Music Festival. The Indie Memphis Film Festival is in its 14th year and was held April 27–28, 2013.

Recognized by MovieMaker Magazine as one of 25 "Coolest Film Festivals" (2009) and one of 25 "Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" (2011), Indie Memphis offers Memphis year-round independent film programming, including the Global Lens international film series, IM Student Shorts student films, and an outdoor concert film series at the historic Levitt Shell. The Outflix Film Festival, also in its 15th year, was held September 7–13, 2013. Outflix features a full week of LGBT cinema, including short films, features, and documentaries. The Memphis International Film and Music Festival is held in April; it is in its 11th year and takes place at Malco's Ridgeway Four.

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Memphis International Jazz Festival is held in the South Main Historic Arts District in Downtown Memphis. This festival promotes the important role Memphis has played in shaping Jazz nationally and internationally. Acts such as George Coleman, Herman Green, Kirk Whalum and Marvin Stamm all come out of the rich musical heritage in Memphis.

Formerly titled the W. C. Handy Awards, the International Blues Awards are presented by the Blues Foundation (headquartered in Memphis) for Blues music achievement. Weeklong playing competitions are held, as well as an awards banquet including a night of performance and celebration.

Music

Memphis is the home of founders and pioneers of various American music genres, including Memphis soul, Memphis blues, gospel, rock n' roll, Memphis rap, Buck, crunk, and "sharecropper" country music (in contrast to the "rhinestone" country sound of Nashville).

Many musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Shawn Lane, Al Green, Rance Allen, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, William Bell, Sam & Dave and B.B. King, got their start in Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s.

Beale Street is a national historical landmark, and shows the impact Memphis has had on American blues, particularly after World War II as electric guitars took precedence. Sam Phillips' Sun Studio, the most seminal recording studio in American popular music, still stands, and is open for tours. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all made their first recordings there, and were "discovered" by Phillips. Many great blues artists recorded there, such as W. C. Handy, Father of the Blues.

Stax Records created a classic 1960s soul music sound, much grittier and horn-based than Motown. Booker T. and the M.G.s were the label's backing band for most of the classic hits that came out of Stax, by Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many more. The sound still lives on in the Blues Brothers movie, in which many of the musicians starred as themselves.

Several notable singers are from the Memphis area, including Justin Timberlake, Kirk Whalum, Three 6 Mafia, Ruth Welting and Kallen Esperian. The Metropolitan Opera of New York had its first tour in Memphis in 1906; in the 1990s it decided to tour only larger cities. Metropolitan Opera performances are now broadcast in HD at local movie theaters across the country.

Visual art

In addition to the Brooks Museum and Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis plays host to two burgeoning visual art areas, one city-sanctioned, and the other organically formed.

The South Main Arts District is an arts neighborhood in south downtown. Over the past 20 years, the area has morphed from a derelict neighborhood to a gentrified, well-lit area sponsoring "Trolley Night", when arts patrons stroll down the street to see fire spinners, DJs playing in front of clubs, specialty shops and galleries.

Another developing arts district in Memphis is Broad Avenue. This east-west avenue is undergoing neighborhood revitalization from the influx of craft and visual artists taking up residence and studios in the area.

Memphis also has non-commercial visual arts organizations and spaces, including local painter Pinkney Herbert's Marshall Arts gallery, on Marshall Avenue near Sun Studios, another arts neighborhood characterized by affordable rent.

Guy Cobb Braille Painting
Exhibit of Guy Cobb's "Braille paintings" for the blind at Christian Brothers University in 2006

Literature

Well-known writers from Memphis include Shelby Foote, the noted Civil War historian. Novelist John Grisham grew up in nearby DeSoto County, Mississippi, and sets many of his books in Memphis.

Many works of fiction and literature are set in Memphis. These include The Reivers by William Faulkner (1962), September, September by Shelby Foote (1977); Peter Taylor's The Old Forest and Other Stories (1985), and his the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Summons to Memphis (1986); The Firm (1991) and The Client (1993), both by John Grisham; Memphis Afternoons: a Memoir by James Conaway (1993), Plague of Dreamers by Steve Stern (1997); Cassina Gambrel Was Missing by William Watkins (1999); The Guardian by Beecher Smith (1999), "We are Billion-Year-Old Carbon" by Corey Mesler (2005), The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and The Architect by James Williamson (2007).

Tourism and recreation

Museums and art collections

Martin Luther King was shot here Small Web view
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (2005)
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis (2008)
Mud island river park
Mud Island Mississippi River Park (2006)
Stax Museum & Satellite Record Shop
Stax Museum and Satellite Record Shop

Many museums of interest are located in Memphis.

  • National Civil Rights Museum
    The National Civil Rights Museum is located in the former Lorraine Motel and related buildings, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. It includes a historical overview of the American civil rights movement and interpretation of historic and current issues.
  • Brooks Museum of Art
    The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, founded in 1916, is the oldest and largest fine art museum in the state of Tennessee. The Brooks' permanent collection includes works from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras to British, French Impressionists and 20th century artists.
  • Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art
    The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, founded in 1988, is located in downtown Memphis near the historic Peabody Hotel. It is sometimes locally referred to as "The Jade Museum" because of the large collection of Asian art made out of jade. In addition to its extensive collection of Asian artwork, it contains a sizable collection of Judaic art.
  • Dixon Gallery and Gardens
    The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, founded in 1976, focuses on French and American impressionism and features works by Monet, Degas and Renoir, as well as pieces by Pierre Bonnard, Mary Cassatt, Marc Chagall, Honoré Daumier, Henri Fantin-Latour, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Berthe Morisot, Edvard Munch, Auguste Rodin and Alfred Sisley, as well as an extensive collection of works by French Impressionist artist Jean-Louis Forain. The museum also houses the Stout Collection of 18th-century German porcelain. With nearly 600 pieces of tableware and figures, it is one of the finest such collections in the United States. The Dixon campus also contains a 17-acre public garden.
  • Children's Museum of Memphis
    The Children's Museum of Memphis exhibits interactive and educational activities for children to take part in, including a skyscraper maze, an airplane cockpit (donated by FedEx), a fire engine, an art studio, grocery store, and, most recently, a mechanic's garage sponsored by AutoZone, Inc.
  • Graceland
    Graceland, the former home of music legend Elvis Presley, is one of the most visited houses in the United States (second only to the White House), attracting over 600,000 visitors a year. Featured at Graceland are two of Presley's private airplanes, his extensive automobile and motorcycle collection and other Elvis memorabilia. On November 7, 1991, Graceland was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Pink Palace
    The Pink Palace Museum serves as the Mid-South's major science and historical museum, and features exhibits ranging from archeology to chemistry. It includes the third largest planetarium in the United States and an IMAX theater. One exhibit features a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly store, the first self-service grocery store, commemorating the invention of the supermarket by Memphian Clarence Saunders in 1916.
  • Memphis Walk of Fame
    The Memphis Walk of Fame is a public exhibit located in the Beale Street historic district, which is modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but is designated exclusively for Memphis musicians, singers, writers and composers. Honorees include W. C. Handy, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland and Alberta Hunter, among others.
  • Mud Island River Park
    Mud Island River Park and Mississippi River Museum is located on Mud Island in downtown Memphis. The park is noted for its River Walk, a 2112:1 scale working model showing 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of the Lower Mississippi River, from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. 30 inches (76 cm) in the model equal 1 mile (1.6 km) of the Mississippi River. The Walk stretches roughly 0.5 miles (800 m), allowing visitors to walk in the water and see models of cities and bridges along the way.
  • Victorian Village
    Victorian Village is a historic district of Memphis featuring a series of fine Victorian-era mansions, some of which are open to the public as museums.
  • Cotton Museum
    The Cotton Museum is a museum that opened in March 2006 on the old trading floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange at 65 Union Avenue in downtown Memphis.
  • Stax Museum
    The Stax Museum is a museum located at 926 McLemore Avenue, the former location of Stax Records. The original building, a converted movie theatre where artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Sam & Dave and many others recorded throughout the '60s and '70s, was torn down. The original façade was reconstructed on the original property. It is operated by Soulsville USA, which also operates the adjacent Stax Music Academy. The original Satellite Record Shop was reconstructed beside this building. It is the only museum in the United States to be devoted entirely to soul music.
  • Chucalissa Indian Village
    Chucalissa Indian Village is a Walls Phase mound and plaza complex that was occupied, abandoned and reoccupied several times throughout its history, spanning from 1000 to 1550 AD. Civilian Conservation Corps workers discovered Native American artifacts on the site in 1938, and archaeological excavations of this Mississippian mound complex were initiated. The facility has been operated by the University of Memphis since 1962. In 1973 Chucalissa Indian Village was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. It is the site of the Southeast Indian Heritage Festival held annually in October.

Cemeteries

Memphis national cemetery
Memphis National Cemetery (2006)

The Memphis National Cemetery is a United States National Cemetery located in northeastern Memphis.

Historic Elmwood Cemetery is one of the oldest rural garden cemeteries in the South, and contains the Carlisle S. Page Arboretum. Memorial Park Cemetery is noted for its sculptures by Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez.

Elvis Presley was originally buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, the resting place of his backing band's bassist, Bill Black. After an attempted grave robbing, his body was moved and reinterred at the grounds of Graceland.

Parks

Major Memphis parks include W.C. Handy Park, Tom Lee Park, Audubon Park, Overton Park including the Old Forest Arboretum, the Lichterman Nature Center (a nature learning center), the Memphis Botanic Garden, and Jesse H Turner Park.

Shelby Farms park, located at the eastern edge of the city, is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

Other points of interest

See also: List of neighborhoods in Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis Beale Street
Beale Street (2013)
Peabody Hotel Memphis
Peabody Hotel (2012)
  • Beale Street
    Blues fans can visit Beale Street, which used to be the center of the Black community, where a young B.B. King used to play his guitar. He occasionally appeared there at the club bearing his name, which he partially owned. Street performers play live music, and bars and clubs feature live entertainment until dawn.
  • Memphis Zoo
    The Memphis Zoo, which is located in midtown Memphis, features many exhibits of mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians from all over the world. The zoo's giant panda exhibit is one of only five in North America. In 2014, USA Today's 10Best Contest voted the Memphis Zoo the #4 zoo in the nation.
  • Peabody Hotel
    The Peabody Hotel is well known for the "Peabody Ducks" that live on the hotel rooftop, making the journey to the hotel lobby in a daily "March of Ducks" ritual.
  • Sun Studio
    Sun Studio is a highly influential recording studio opened on January 3, 1950, by rock pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Avenue. It is available for tour, which is where Elvis Presley first recorded "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Other famous musicians who got their start at Sun include Johnny Cash, Rufus Thomas, Charlie Rich, Howlin' Wolf, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. It now contains a museum as well as the still-functioning and operating studio.
  • The Orpheum Theatre
    The Orpheum Theatre was built in 1928 upon the former property of the Grand Opera House, which was burnt to the ground in 1923 during a strip tease performance by Blossom Seeley. After vaudeville's popularity waned, the building was purchased by the Malco Theatres theatre chain in 1940 and presented first-run films until Malco sold the building in 1976. The Orpheum is now managed by the Memphis Development Foundation and presents 10 to 12 Broadway shows each year. The theatre is also home to two of Memphis' local arts groups, Ballet Memphis and Opera Memphis.
  • The New Daisy Theatre
    The New Daisy Theatre is an all-ages concert venue located on Beale Street. After 11 pm, only those at least 18 years of age are allowed on Beale—unless they are going to (or from) a destination point like the New Daisy. The New Daisy routinely presents some of the biggest acts to come to the Mid South. Possibly the most popular venue in Memphis, past acts have included Ani DiFranco, AFI, Cannibal Corpse, GWAR, Insane Clown Posse, Keller Williams, Lamb of God, Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Black Sabbath among many others. The venue also, on occasion, hosts the Gorilla Production Battle of the Bands as well as Mixed Martial Arts fights.
  • Mud Island Amphitheatre
    Located on Front Avenue, the Mud Island Amphitheatre is a concert venue with an approximate capacity of 5,000 viewers. As one of the two major concert venues in Memphis, past acts have included the likes of R.E.M., Phish, 311, the Black Crowes, Fall Out Boy, Journey, New Kids on the Block, O.A.R., Pat Benatar, Smashing Pumpkins, Steely Dan, and Willie Nelson.
  • The Pyramid
    Formerly a sports arena and concert venue, The Memphis Pyramid is now home to the largest Bass Pro Shops in the world. In addition to the retail store itself, the building contains an observation deck, restaurants, bowling alley, aquarium, and hotel. It is one of the first sights seen when entering the city from West Memphis via the Hernando DeSoto Bridge. Its unique structure plays on the city's namesake in Egypt, known for its ancient pyramids. At 321 feet (98 m), it is the sixth-largest pyramid in the world behind the Great Pyramid of Giza 456 ft (139 m), Khafre's Pyramid 446 ft (136 m), the Luxor Hotel 348 ft (106 m), the Red Pyramid 341 ft (104 m) and the Bent Pyramid 331 ft (101 m).
  • Other
    Other Memphis attractions include the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, FedExForum, and Mississippi riverboat day cruises.

Twin towns – Sister cities

Memphis has two sister cities, as per Sister Cities International:

  • The Gambia – Kanifing (Gambia)
  • Senegal – Kaolack (Senegal)

Images for kids


Memphis, Tennessee Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.