The Memphis Ghetto:
North Memphis to South Memphis
Inside the Memphis ghetto is a story that explains how the communities of North Memphis, South Memphis, and Orange Mound played
Memphis Black History
While today, the majority of Memphis’ population is African-American, the city’s black community has always made up a large portion of the city since the late 1800s.
During the 1800s, African-Americans made up a total of 44% of the city’s population as many worked as servants or in the cotton industry during the days after slavery.
After Memphis’ black community became settled, the legendary community of Beale Street became the heart of Memphis’ black culture as families were moving to Memphis after the Civil War.
Some of the first black communities were Douglass, Klondike, and New Chicago of North Memphis, while in South Memphis the community extended from Beale Street to South Parkway.
The city’s first housing projects were the Dixie Homes and Lauderdale Courts.
The Dixie Homes were for black families and white families, including the family of Elvis Presley, were only allowed to live in the Lauderdale Courts.
Other projects, like Hurt Village, were originally for white families until the assassination of Martin Luther King led to white flight out of the city of Memphis.
White flight eventually changed the city’s demographics by making Memphis predominantly African-American by the 1970s.
Inside the Memphis Ghetto: North Memphis
As stated before, some of the first black neighborhoods of North Memphis were Klondike, sections of Binghampton, New Chicago, and the Douglass community.
The neighborhood of Douglas was allegedly founded by former slaves and dates back as far as the late 1800s.
Near Klondike and New Chicago, there is the legendary Smokey City, 7th Street, and Watkins and Brown neighborhoods, all in the heart of the North Memphis ghetto.
Further down Vollentine and Chelsea Avenue is Evergreen, Hyde Park and Hollywood, while between Jackson and Poplar streets resides the two areas of Mitchell Heights and Binghampton.
While most of the projects in Memphis were in South Memphis, North Memphis’ Frayser community, or the Bay Area, is home to the modern day housing projects of numerous apartment complexes.
Cities across America are getting away from traditional housing projects and making low-income apartment complexes into subsidized or section 8 voucher type of housing.
Over the years, many families have been moving across Interstate 40 into the Frayser, Raleigh, and Bartlett communities.
While North Memphis has much dilapidation, gentrification is not affecting Memphis like in other American cities.
Inside the Memphis Ghetto: South Memphis
The community of South Memphis has much history, from Beale Street to the world famous Stax Music, while also being the home of numerous historic neighborhoods.
Memphis started out as a rural area with Shelby County being home to numerous slave plantations.
The beginning of the black community in South Memphis was in the areas between Beale Street and South Parkway, with specific neighborhoods around Walker Avenue and the former LeMoyne Gardens.
Not only was South Memphis one of the first location for blacks in the city of Memphis, so was the community of Orange Mound.
Orange Mound, which has been around since the late 1800s, was founded by African-Americans and white real-estate developers.
The community would later grow into being one of the largest all-black communities in the country.
What began as a thriving all-black neighborhood, changed as African-American who was economically sufficient decided to leave the community for areas like East Memphis.
Black flight and other factors led to the overall decline of the Orange Mound community.
Another historic community is the Walker Homes, which was one of the first suburbs in the country built for African-Americans during the 1950s.
The streets of Memphis have always had its own reputation, especially back in the days when South Memphis was often known as “Funky Town”.
From the days of the projects like Lemoyne Gardens and Walter Simmons or the apartment complexes of Pussy Valley (Graves Manor) and Kingsgate, South Memphis has always been a reputable community.
Currently, the South Memphis ghetto and other communities of the city have been changing.
Many of the projects, like the Cleaborne Homes and Fowler Homes, have been either demolished or rebuilt to a reduced size.
Also, blocks in the South Memphis ghetto have become scattered with vacant houses and lots with very little rebuilding.
Neighborhoods like BlackHaven (Whitehaven), Westwood, and even East Memphis, which were built around the 1950s and 1960s for white families, have the majority of the black population on the city’s South Side.
*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.
Bond, Beverly G., and Janann Sherman. Memphis in Black and White. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003. Print.
McPherson, Larry E. Memphis. Santa Fe, NM: Center for American Places, 2002. Print.
Williams, Charles. “African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound”. Lexington Books, 2013