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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
Seat Memphis
Largest city Memphis
 • Total 785 sq mi (2,030 km2)
 • Land 763 sq mi (1,980 km2)
 • Water 22 sq mi (60 km2)  2.8%%
 • Total 929,744 Increase
 • Density 1,194/sq mi (461/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional districts 8th, 9th

Shelby County is the westernmost county in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2020 census, the population was 929,744. It is the largest of the state's 95 counties, both in terms of population and geographic area. Its county seat is Memphis, a port on the Mississippi River and the second most populous city in Tennessee. The county was named for Governor Isaac Shelby (1750–1826) of Kentucky. It is one of only two remaining counties in Tennessee, along with Haywood County, with a majority African American population.

Shelby County is part of the Memphis, TN-MS-AR Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. Located within the Mississippi Delta, the county was 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%
2020 929,744 0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2014
USA Shelby County, Tennessee.csv age pyramid
Population pyramid Shelby County

2020 census

Shelby County racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 316,740 34.07%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 475,074 51.1%
Native American 1,561 0.17%
Asian 27,960 3.01%
Pacific Islander 256 0.03%
Other/Mixed 30,446 3.27%
Hispanic or Latino 77,707 8.36%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 929,744 people, 353,950 households, and 215,446 families residing in the county.

2010 census

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 927,644 people living 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).

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.


Public transit

Public transportation is provided by the Memphis Area Transit Authority, also known as MATA for short. In addition to MATA buses, the MATA operates the MATA Trolley. The city also has a suspended monorail known as the Memphis Suspension Railway connecting the city to Mud Island.

Major highways

  • I-22
  • I-40
  • I-55
  • I-69
  • I-240
  • I-269
  • US 51
  • US 61
  • US 64
  • US 70
  • US 72
  • US 78
  • US 79
  • SR 1
  • SR 3
  • SR 4
  • SR 14
  • SR 15
  • SR 23
  • SR 86
  • SR 175
  • SR 176
  • SR 177
  • SR 193
  • 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


  • Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball team
  • Memphis Redbirds, Triple-A minor league baseball team
  • Memphis 901 FC, USL Championship League soccer team established in 2018.


Higher education

Shelby County is home to fourteen institutions of higher learning and satellite campuses of institutions whose main campus is in another county.

Memphis is home to Baptist College of Health Sciences, Christian Brothers University, Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide (Memphis Campus), Harding School of Theology, LeMoyne–Owen College, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Theological Seminary, Rhodes College, Southern College of Optometry, Southwest Tennessee Community College, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and the University of Memphis.

Cordova is home to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Germantown is home to a satellite campus of Union University.

Primary and secondary education

Shelby County Schools (SCS) is a school district serving all of Memphis and most unincorporated areas.

Suburban school districts:

  • Arlington Community Schools
  • Bartlett City Schools
  • Collierville Schools
  • Germantown Municipal Schools
  • Lakeland School System
  • Millington Municipal Schools

Shelby County Schools was previously a school district that operated almost all schools in Shelby County, Tennessee, until the end of the 2012–2013 school year; almost all areas in Shelby County that were outside the city of Memphis were zoned to schools operated by SCS. Schools in Memphis were operated by Memphis City Schools. On June 30, 2013, Memphis city and Shelby County schools consolidated, forming a unified county school system (still called Shelby County Schools), this last one year.

In 2014, the incorporated suburbs of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington (other than Memphis) broke away from the Unified System and formed their own municipal districts. Their residents had previously voted in favor of creating municipal school districts, and all voted to pass the related sales tax hike except for Millington, which narrowly rejected the sales tax hike by three votes. On November 27, 2012, U.S. district court Judge Samuel Mays voided this vote since the state law passed at the time applied only to a specific area (which is unconstitutional). The Tennessee state legislature passed the law again, to include all of the state. All six suburbs voted again for the municipal districts and started classes on August 4, 2014.

Notable people

  • James Mortimer Crews, American Civil War veteran and brother of C.C. Crews.
  • Since 2010 country singer Bobbie Gentry has lived privately in the community.

Yo gotti, American hip-hop artist

8ball & MJG, American hip-hop artist

Young Dolph, American hip-hop artist

Three 6 Mafia, american hip-hop Grammy award winning group

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