Memphis has a long rich history dating back to the late 1700s when Tennessee received her statehood. The top 10 most important historical events in Memphis' history include the Chucalissa Indian Village, the earthquake of 1811-1812, the founding of Memphis, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley, the cotton industry, the 1866 race riots, the yellow fever epidemic and the opening of the Piggly Wiggly.
Memphis has a long rich history dating back to the late 1700s when Tennessee received her statehood. The top 10 most important historical events in Memphis' history include the Chucalissa Indian Village, the earthquake of 1811-1812, the founding of Memphis, the 1866 race riots, the yellow fever epidemic, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley, the cotton industry, the founding of the University of Memphis, and the opening of the Piggly Wiggly.
The Chucalissa Indian Village dates back to the 15th century. Located on a bluff in Memphis overlooking the Mississippi River, the site is registered as a National Historical Landmark. The native people - referred to as the Mississippians - built permanent structures in the area. They hunted, fished, lived and died here. Their descendents include the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Quapaw and Cherokee peoples. Over the years, the land has traded hands numerous times, until 1854 when it became a cotton plantation. Slaves were bought and freed over the course of the Civil War here. After the Civil War the land traded hands numerous times again until the state purchased it in 1936 to create the Shelby County Negro Park. In 1938 as the park was being prepared, workers discovered the archaeological site.
The Earthquake of 1811-1812
On the night of 11 December 1811 a series of strong eartquakes began to hit the area. Centered in New Madrid, MO, the quake was felt in memphis. The quakes were so strong that church bells tolled in Boston and legend claims that the Mighty Mississippi River actually flowed backwards for three days.
The Founding of Memphis
Memphis was founded in 1819. The city was founded by three men, one of whom was future President of the United States Andrew Jackson. They named the city for the capital of ancient Egypt.
Race Riots of 1866
The worst race riot in Memphis was between 30 April and 3 May in 1866. Most of the rioters were white Irishmen whose jobs had been taken by free blacks. The riots started as a result of a white police officer having been shot. Rumors went around that he was shot by free black men which started the riots. Just shy of 50 people, mostly blacks, died during the three day riot.
Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878
Yellow fever first struck Memphis in 1828 causing 150 deaths. There were several breakouts throughout the next 50 years. The worst was the epidemic of 1878 when the yellow fever claimed 5,000 lives.
The Piggly Wiggly Opens
Clarence Saunders opens his first Piggly Wiggly store in in Memphis on 6 September 1916. Shoppers used to give their grocery lists to the clerks who in turn filled the orders for the customers. Saunders however designed the Piggly Wiggly so that shoppers could browse the items themselves and shop for themselves. Piggly Wiggly is now an an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers.
Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 4 Apri1 1968 as he stood on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in town. King was in Memphis to support the Sanitation Workers' strike. The Lorraine Motel is now a National Civil Rights Museum. It covers more than just King's assassination. It covers civil rights from slavery forward.
One can barely think of Memphis without Elvis coming to mind. Elvis Presley had an unforgettable voice and talent that earned him the title, "King of Rock and Roll." Visitors to Memphis can walk through Elvis' home Graceland where he passed on 16 August 1977. While in Memphis, music lovers should also plan a stop at the legendary Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first song, as well as Beale Street.
Memphis grew up on cotton and until the Ciivil War cotton was a major industry of the area. Located on S. Front Street, the Cotton Exchange Building is a small museum that covers the history of the cotton industry in Memphis.
University of Memphis
The Univeristy of Memphis first opened its doors in 1912 as West Tennessee State Normal School. Over the years, the college added curriculums and dropped the agriculture curriculum. The first black students attended the college in 1959. The first doctoral programs began in 1966. In 1994 the school was renamed the University of Memphis.
Memphis has many historical attractions for visitors and residents alike.