Memphis City Guide
Memphis, the largest city in Tennessee and the seat of Shelby County, is situated on the eastern bank of a bend in the Mississippi River. The city's name, which means "place of good abode," came from the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, and was inspired by the Mississippi's nickname, "Nile of the New World." Memphis was founded in 1819 by James Winchester, John Overton, and Andrew Jackson in the newly formed state of Tennessee. Because of its river location and its rich delta soil, Memphis grew rather quickly as an agricultural center, shipping cotton to the Northern states. Because of the city's commercial ties to the industrial North, the people of Memphis were hesitant to secede from the Union prior to the Civil War. Unfortunately, the bulk of Memphis' economy was built on the back of slave labor, so loyalties were split throughout the city. For the rest of the state, the matter was a bit clearer cut. Tennessee split from the Union in 1861, and Memphis became a state capital and Confederate stronghold. The city was captured by Northern forces in 1862 and remained under Union control for the rest of the Civil War.
Memphis has long played a role in the Civil Rights Movement. Immediately following the Civil War, former slaves flocked to Memphis to take advantage of the new freedoms and rights they had been granted. Men like Ed Shaw and Reverend Morris Henderson worked to establish Memphis' strong African-American communities. Robert R. Church, an ex-slave business tycoon and Republican leader, established the NAACP in Memphis in 1917. In 1968, a sanitation workers' strike escalated into a full-blown rally that ended, tragically, with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The National Civil Rights Museum, erected in 1991 at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot, honors the American Civil Rights Movement, from colonial times to the present.