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.