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Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
July 02
Harkins House Productions
Chandra Kamaria is an enterprising artistic professional dedicated to creating dynamic initiatives for cultural and social expression using various forms of media. Her passion is to offer an alternative to the crowded mainstream; granting exposure to those underserved audiences and creating tremendous artistic, social, and business opportunities. Please visit


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Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 27, 2009 1:46AM

Remnants of the Old South

Rate: 21 Flag

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  One bright Saturday afternoon, I decided to pull out my camera and snap some shots of this peculiar city of Memphis.  I’ve been working on a piece that will adequately describe my current place of residence, but it’s been rather difficult to pull all of the elements of the piece together. However, I will definitely work it out and publish the piece because it’s necessary.  For right now, I will let these pictures serve as proper representation of a city with a haunting past. 


At one point in its history, Memphis had a thriving cotton industry because of its likely transportation system. While I am not quite sure if this building was used for cotton production, I snapped the photo because of the inscription, perhaps indubitably giving Memphis a subtitle.   


This slab, located at the intersection of Auction and Main Street in Downtown Memphis, is part of the original auction block used during slave auctions.  Interestingly enough, Memphis has a predominately African American population with an African American mayor and unfortunately is the site where Martin Luther King, Jr.  was assassinated. The roots of racism run deeply in this city.  While not as overt as it has been in the past, the wounds of racial divide are still open and seething.   This auction block stands as a painful reminder of a people who are still incredibly marginalized.


I really like this picture because it symbolizes the struggle of Memphis.  Let me explain.  The billboard, which should have been taken down by the time I took this picture, is advertising the 101st Holy Convocation for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).  COGIC is a denominational organization comprised of primarily African American clergy and congregation.  The Holy Convocation is a week-long conference of sorts featuring several worship services and other events.  The convocation generates millions of dollars in revenue, making it one of the principle revenue generators for Memphis, along with Graceland and Beale Street.   

The Memphis skyline is in the distance beyond the trees. On the far left is the Peabody Place complex which is probably less than ten years old.  Those three buildings in the middle are banks, SunTrust, Regions (formerly Union Planters), and First Tennessee and then, on the far right, is one of Memphis’ oldest buildings and only skyscraper, the Sterick Building.  It is indicative of an era when Memphis was a chief boomtown in the South. 

Symbolically, the Peabody Place building represents Memphis’ efforts to move forward, incorporating several revitalization projects within the Downtown area over the past eight to ten years.  The bank buildings are representatives of the old money that circulates in this city, moving from one prominent family to another and never quite trickling down to the masses.  An Old South jewel, the Sterick Building is a reminder of a glorious Memphis past that culminated decades ago and since that time, the city has not recovered from that long spiraling downturn.

However, the billboard is in full view as Memphis boasts of its Bible Belt heritage.  It’s a troubling heritage as some of the issues surrounding Memphis’ growth could be related to the deep influence of the local church community and especially, the racial divide among congregants who read the same Bible and worship the same Jesus.  At the same time, the local church community has yet to tap into the tremendous power that it possesses as a change agent to push Memphis beyond its ill-constructed barriers.   

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I spent a couple of years traveling around the South, and I must admit - I loved Memphis. There was some culture shock, for sure (VERY different from CA), but dayum! I loved it. Thank you for posting this.
Oh hi! Very nice pictures and post. I'm in Memphis too. My grandfather worked in the Sterick building as an insurance agent, decades ago.

My godmother from Canada visited us once and while my mom was driving her around downtown, she said, "Why do you always take me to see slums?" Well, it's sad but true, Memphis has really interesting slums. Some of our most interesting places are run down and forgotten.

I have a COGIC story. My grandmother, who was white, was interested in the Civil Rights movement. She was a Baptist, but she decided to go to one of the big COGIC gatherings because she felt that it was wrong that white and black people never mixed in church, where all people ought to come together equally before the same God. This was in the 60's, and she went with her friend, who was a little tiny white lady, very prim and proper. On this particular occasion they were the only white people there, and they were trying to seem relaxed and just like anyone else, when one of the bishops noticed them. He had the whole congregation welcome them and pulled them out of the crowd and set them up on stage with the bishops - two of the bishops gave up their chairs for them. They sat up there through the whole meeting facing the crowd and were very embarrassed!

Memphis still has a bunch of racial tension, but I am glad that if I went down to a COGIC meeting today, I might get a couple of odd looks, but it wouldn't be that big a deal.We've made some progress.

I'm glad to meet you, I'll go look back through your old stuff.
Great piece. I live on the other end of our state, but my sister and brother in law lived in Memphis. Brother in law still does and my sister was killed there. I look at Eastern Memphis where they lived and think that just a few more miles West of all the old memories. Walking down Beale Street I feel like I'm home. Yet the areas around there have been left to fall. I also feel an immense amount of racism in Memphis as opposed to where I live in Eastern Tennessee so far away. I hope things get better there for the once great city.

Thanks for writing on Memphis.
I lived in Memphis for years and really loved it there. So much so I'm considering moving back.

I had no idea that they still had the auction block. It's a good but painful reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

Pictures are amazing. Thank you.
I love Memphis! It has such a rich history, although some is of the horrid kind. When I went to the Civil Rights Museum, I stood at the top of the steps and was just frozen because there was an African-American man in MLK's hotel room, looking out the window. I was frozen in place for a couple of minutes.

I also set off an alarm in the Visitor's Center on the river side when I touched the BB King statue for luck. Heh.
I really like this post and the pictures of Memphis with a discussion of its history. Thanks.
Great post. This was fascinating. Thanks.
Love the post - fascinating history and pictures. For many years we've passed through and stayed in Memphis en route to family in New Orleans. I've always found it an intoxicating yet haunting and contradictory place that reveals something new every time we visit. Thanks.
This one brought back some memories. As Future Farmers of America (FFA) members in high school, we used to attend a farm show in Memphis. When not otherwise working at the show, we used to walk down to the Mississippi River levee and just fool around. Then, we'd take a shortcut through a large cotton warehouse or something. We'd enter at one end, walk the length of the warehouse, and out the other end. Sometimes, we'd walk through a warehouse with people working in it. They'd ignore us and on we'd go. When in Memphis, we stayed at the YMCA and had a final FFA dinner at the, I believe, Peabody Hotel. Anyway, great post. Thanks.
Thank you for these pictures, and for the insightful commentary. My father grew up in Memphis, and left when he was 18. He loved much about the city, but ultimately turned away from it. He always said it was a city that looked backward much more than forward, and the past that it looked back to was not a past that he wanted to maintain.

One of his best friends, a pastor at a white Southern Baptist Church, marched with MLK during that fateful week in 1968. Following the assassination, this man was fired and had to leave both the church and ultimately the denomination. I am reminded of that fact because of your comment that the local churches still have not exersized their unique ability to transcend race and move the city forward.

Don't get me wrong -- I have visited Memphis many times, have family there, and enjoy my time there. There are a lot of positive things happening in Memphis. And the city is not alone in being haunted by its past. But the city could be so much more than it is.
Thanks to everyone for reading and rating this post. It's beautiful to see people who love Memphis and have some very fond memories of this place. Do I love Memphis? Well, it depends on what day you ask me. :)

AnniThyme, culture shock is great way to describe it but I'm glad you had a good experience here.

Hey Allie! Keep in touch! Your COGIC story had me cracking up! I could just imagine--I'm familiar with COGIC people. I'm a Christian, but I don't associate with any denominations. That's a bit too organized for me. :)

Greg: Sorry about your sister. I enjoyed reading about your memories. I have more to say about Memphis, it's so incredibly underwritten. :)

JK Brady: If the pic sends shivers up your spine, just imagine looking at it. :) About ten years ago, I stayed at a bed and breakfast in New Orleans that was a former plantation. The cabins were the actual slave quarters. Now, that was haunting. We kept feeling like the ancestors were roaming around there.

odetteroulette: Moving back? Hmmmm, think seriously about that. :D But, if you do, look me up!

Gregormendel: I know the feeling of being frozen at the NCRM. It's happened to me on a few occasions. I laughed out loud about rubbing BB King's statue. So....did it work?

cyclopic: Did you see the Peabody ducks?

Stephanie: That piece is wearing me down...I'm trying to keep it as a blog post...but it's acting like it wants to be a book.

Procopius: It takes great courage to make such a stand. Are you able to get in touch with that pastor? During this time of change, what are his thoughts? Hopefully, he knows that he did his part in bringing about an era of changing America for the better.

Janie: It was an ugly period of history, a stain on this country and other countries that have and, in some cases, still practice. As much as I read about it and study it, I haven't been able to get my hands around how anyone could engage in such a thing.
Hi, Chandra, thanks for responding to my comment. No, I don't recall the ducks. About all I remember about the Peabody is the music from the Peabody on the radio. I'm moving back in time here, but we used to listen to it late at night while we sat on the porch. Success, Cy.
Hi, Chandra, one last thought. I grew up partly in a small Southern town near Memphis. "My" hometown was one of those Sundown Towns so eloquently described in the book "Sundown Towns." You've probably read it, but the thing that struck me about the book was the inclusion of my town in it. As a kid, I knew about the town's racism, but seeing it in print was nevertheless a stark reminder of something incomprehensible. I left there at age ten and haven't been exposed on a daily basis to Southern attitudes since then, although such attitudes exist in parts of California, just not quite as blatant except in the case of nuts like Michael Medvedm a San Francisco-based radio talk show ranter ala Rush Limbaugh. cy