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Shelby County, Tennessee facts for kids

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Shelby County
Shelby County Courthouse
Shelby County Courthouse
Official seal of Shelby County
Map of Tennessee highlighting Shelby County
Location within the U.S. state of Tennessee
Map of the United States highlighting Tennessee
Tennessee's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Tennessee
Founded November 24, 1819
Named for Isaac Shelby
 • Total 785 sq mi (2,030 km2)
 • Land 763 sq mi (1,980 km2)
 • Water 22 sq mi (60 km2)  2.8%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,216/sq mi (470/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional districts 8th, 9th

Shelby County is a county in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population was 927,644. It is the state's largest county both in terms of population and geographic area. Its county seat is Memphis, the most populous city in Tennessee. The county was named for Governor Isaac Shelby (1750–1826) of Kentucky.

Shelby County is part of the Memphis, TN-MS-AR Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. Within the Mississippi Delta, the county developed as a center of cotton plantations in the antebellum era, and cotton continued as an important commodity crop well into the 20th century. The economy has become more diversified.


Shelby County was established by European-American migrants in 1819. The county was part of the lands acquired by the United States government from the Chickasaw as part of the Jackson Purchase of 1818. The county was named for Isaac Shelby, the former governor of Kentucky who had helped negotiate the land acquisition. From 1826 to 1868, the county seat was located at Raleigh, Tennessee on the Wolf River; after the American Civil War, in recognition of the growth of Memphis, it was moved there. (Raleigh is now within the city limits of Memphis.)

The lowlands in the Mississippi Delta, closest to the Mississippi River, were developed for large cotton plantations; their laborers were overwhelmingly enslaved African Americans, whom planters transported from the east in the domestic slave trade. Well before the American Civil War, the population of the county was majority black and mostly slaves. Memphis developed as a major cotton market, with many brokers. After the war, many freedmen stayed on the land by working as sharecroppers.

From 1877-1950, there were many lynchings of blacks by whites in Shelby County, the highest number of any county in the state. Most blacks were disenfranchised around the turn of the century when the state passed laws raising barriers to voter registration; and also imposed Jim Crow. Blacks were mostly closed out of the political system for more than six decades. In the 20th century, mechanization of agriculture reduced the need for farm workers at a time when industries and railroads in the North were recruiting workers. The Great Migration resulted in many African Americans moving from rural areas into Memphis or out of state to northern cities for work and other opportunities.

After World War II, highways were constructed that led to development of much new housing on the outskirts of Memphis where land was cheap. Suburbanization, with retail businesses following new residents, took place in the county, drawing population out of the city. With continued residential and suburban development, the population became majority white. Six towns in the county have become incorporated; other communities are unincorporated. Residents enjoy many parks in the area as well as attractions in the city of Memphis.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 785 square miles (2,030 km2), of which 763 square miles (1,980 km2) is land and 22 square miles (57 km2) (2.8%) is water. It is the largest county in Tennessee by area. The lowest point in the state of Tennessee is located on the Mississippi River in Shelby County (just outside the Memphis city limits), where the river flows out of Tennessee and into Mississippi.


Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1820 364
1830 5,648 1,451.6%
1840 14,721 160.6%
1850 31,157 111.7%
1860 48,092 54.4%
1870 76,378 58.8%
1880 78,430 2.7%
1890 112,740 43.7%
1900 153,557 36.2%
1910 191,439 24.7%
1920 223,216 16.6%
1930 306,482 37.3%
1940 358,250 16.9%
1950 482,393 34.7%
1960 627,019 30.0%
1970 722,014 15.2%
1980 777,113 7.6%
1990 826,330 6.3%
2000 897,472 8.6%
2010 927,644 3.4%
Est. 2015 938,069 1.1%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2014
USA Shelby County, Tennessee.csv age pyramid
Population pyramid Shelby County

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 927,644 people residing in the county. 52.1% were Black or African American, 40.6% White, 2.3% Asian, 0.2% Native American, 3.3% of some other race and 1.4 of two or more races. 5.6% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

As of the census of 2000, there were 897,472 people, 338,366 households, and 228,735 families residing in the county. The population density was 1,189 people per square mile (459/km²). There were 362,954 housing units at an average density of 481 per square mile (186/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 48.56% Black, or African American, 47.34% White, 0.20% Native American, 1.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.20% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. 2.60% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 338,366 households out of which 34.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.80% were married couples living together, 20.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.70% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.18.

Shelby farms park scenic
Scenic view in Shelby Farms park

In the county, the population was spread out with 28.20% under the age of 18, 9.70% from 18 to 24, 31.10% from 25 to 44, 21.00% from 45 to 64, and 10.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.80 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $39,593, and the median income for a family was $47,386. Males had a median income of $36,932 versus $26,776 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,856. About 12.90% of families and 16.00% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.90% of those under age 18 and 13.30% of those age 65 or over.

Shelby County Courthouse

The Shelby County Courthouse, in Memphis on Adams Avenue between North 2nd and North 3rd streets, was designed by James Gamble Rogers and completed in 1909. This neoclassical pile features a long portico topped by a cornice supported by massive Ionic columns. The ambitious sculptural program designed by J. Massey Rhind includes the pediment groups, Canon Law, Roman Law, Statutory Law, Civil Law and Criminal Law. Female allegorical figures can be found on the north facade cornice representing Integrity, Courage, Mercy, Temperance, Prudence and Learning. Flanking the main entrances are over-life-sized seated figures embodying Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace and Prosperity.

It is by far the state's largest courthouse. The courthouse was featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs as the place where Dr. Hannibal Lecter was held and escapes custody.


Major highways

  • I-40
  • I-55 / US 61 / US 70 / US 79
  • I-69
  • I-240
  • I-269
  • US 51
  • US 64
  • US 72
  • US 78
  • SR 1
  • SR 4
  • SR 14
  • SR 15
  • SR 23
  • SR 86
  • SR 175
  • SR 176
  • SR 177
  • SR 204
  • SR 205
  • SR 277
  • SR 278
  • SR 300
  • SR 385
  • SR 388
  • Sam Cooper Boulevard

* Once fully completed the mainline of I-69 will travel from Brownsville, TX to Port Huron, MI.

Air travel

Shelby County is the site of Memphis International Airport, located 3 miles (5 km) south of the center of Memphis.


Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park Shelby County TN 2013-06-02 003
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park




Map of Shelby County, Tennessee.svg

Numbers refer to the map at right.



Unincorporated communities

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