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The Great Replacement: Memphis

Credit: Luca Sartoni, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the eleventh in a series about the continuing disappearance of whites from American cities (see our earlier articles on BirminghamWashington, D.C.New York CityChicagoRichmondMilwaukeeBaltimorePhiladelphia, Los Angeles, and Jackson). Many people still pretend that The Great Replacement is a myth or a conspiracy theory, but the graphs that accompany each article prove them wrong. Every city has a different story, but each has seen a dramatic replacement of whites by minorities.

Memphis, Tennessee, exemplifies the rise, fall, and flight of European-Americans from the cities we built. Andrew Jackson helped plan the frontier city, an important trading post for the growing nation. During the Civil War, the Union won a victory that cut the Confederacy’s river-trade network. However, after the war, it was in Memphis where whites rioted against blacks, an important step in the Southern Redemption that overthrew Reconstruction and military occupation.

Memphis was the scene of another turning point when James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr, the moral hero of “Our Democracy,” which replaced the Old Republic. A slim white majority held on until 1980, and its percentage now falls every decade. Today, Memphis is a majority-black, crime-ridden, and arguably the most dangerous city in the country.

Spanish, French, and American explorers and soldiers all recognized the strategic importance of Memphis’s location. Andrew Jackson and two other men founded it on May 22, 1819 after securing land from the Chickasaw. They named it after the famous Egyptian city. Like those who built other frontier settlements, Jackson and his co-founders believed they were starting something great.

These were hard men with no racial fantasies. In 1813, co-founder General James Winchester had lost the Battle of Frenchtown to the British and their Indian allies; Indians then massacred unarmed prisoners. What became known as the River Raisin Massacre prompted infuriated Americans to rush to the colors. Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans might not have been possible if frontier Americans hadn’t been so enraged.

The third founder, John Overton, descended from a famous Roundhead general in the English Civil War. He was a judge, slave trader, land developer, member of the American Antiquarian Society, and, like Jackson, a Freemason. (Overton’s home, Traveller’s Rest, and Jackson’s famous Hermitage are both in Nashville. Those who run them today emphasize “theenslaved.”) Winchester and Overton were more heavily involved with the city than Jackson was, but Memphis can still claim Old Hickory as a Founding Father.

Traveller’s Rest

Unlike many cities in this “Great Replacement” series, Memphis was never almost entirely white. It was a trading post with both black slaves and free blacks, and became an important railway hub. It also attracted many Irish immigrants. The white share of the population peaked at 82.8 percent in 1860. The Union captured the city relatively early in the war, so there was no Confederate conscription. Many of the Memphis Irish therefore were never in the Confederate Army.

After the Union victory, this meant the majority of eligible voters weren’t born in America, and many of the police were Irish. Unlike in many Southern cities, whites never lost control of politics, though Confederate veterans had no power.

Irish workers competed with blacks for jobs, and this led to the Memphis Riot of 1866. This bloodletting inspired Radical Republicans to push through the 14th Amendment, meant to guarantee rights to blacks.

According to a report from the Freedman’s Bureau, which some might consider biased, Irish police forced blacks off the sidewalk and a fight resulted. The next day, there appeared “a crowd of colored men, principally discharged soldiers, many of whom were more or less intoxicated.” A few were “very noisy and boisterous.” Police tried to arrest the men but were attacked by “Negroes” who tried “to rescue their comrades.” One white policeman accidentally shot himself in the confusion and died. The Freedman’s Bureau reports that:

About this time the police fired upon unoffending Negroes remote from the riotous quarter. Colored soldiers with whom the police first had trouble had returned in the meantime to Fort Pickering. The police was soon reinforced and commenced firing on the colored people, men, women and children, in that locality, killing and wounding several.

Shortly after, the City Recorder (John C. Creighton) arrived upon the ground (corner of Causey and Vance Streets) and in a speech which received three hearty cheers from the crowd there assembled, councilled and urged the whites to arm and kill every Negro and drive the last one from the city. Then during this night the Negroes were hunted down by police, firemen and other white citizens, shot, assaulted, robbed, and in many instances their houses searched under the pretense of hunting for concealed arms, plundered, and then set on fire, during which no resistance so far as we can learn was offered by the Negroes.

The report says that whites attacked blacks for days, also killing a white person by mistake. The mayor was reportedly drunk, and the sheriff and a Union general couldn’t restrain the mob. “The remote cause was the feeling of bitterness which has always existed between the two classes,” says the report, and “the minor affrays which occurred daily, especially between the police and colored persons.”

Many blacks reportedly fled the city after this, but the 1870 census shows whites were still only 61.5 percent of the population. In 1880, Memphis was just 55.6 percent white, though state law banned miscegenation, segregated the schools, and let “hotel keepers, carriers of passengers, and keepers of places of amusement” refuse service just as “any private person over his private house.” Interestingly, state law also required first-class cars “in good repair” for blacks who paid for first-class train tickets.

Whites kept blacks out of politics through various “disenfranchising acts” passed by the state, including a poll tax and strict registration requirements. The Memphis Appeal-Avalanche wrote on March 7, 1892 that Memphis was the “most orderly city of its size on the continent,” boasting an efficient police administration and the “safety of life and property here having come to be a matter of fame.” It wrote this after the “Curve lynching,” a case promoted by muckraker Ida B. Wells, and the first lynching in the city after the Civil War.

A white mob lynched Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart who, according to Wells, owned a grocery store called “The Curve.” There was a fight at the store between blacks and whites, which the whites reportedly lost. They vowed to “clean out” the grocery, and the store posted guards. The guards shot at whites who were supposedly raiding the shop, but they were said to be a sheriff and plainclothes deputies.

On March 6, 1892, The Appeal-Avalanchecalled what ensued “a bloody riot,” and wrote a colorful tale of blacks storing weapons and holding secret meetings. According to Wells, frenzied press coverage about a black conspiracy to kill whites led to a mob lynching the black men, who “had committed no crime.” She concluded that lynching was “an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the n—– down.’” This inspired her to investigate lynchings throughout the South.

Today, the orthodox story is that whites resented a black man who was running a better store than the white grocer. Also, while whites wanted to keep blacks down, they didn’t want them to leave because they didn’t want to lose cheap labor. They wanted white supremacy, not separation.

The truth, as was the case with the riot in Tulsa in 1921, is that fights between whites and blacks led to an armed standoff in which both sides were violent. The real story is that interracial societies are filled with tension, and petty incidents can lead to mob bloodshed. Some blacks reportedly left the city after this, but Memphis was still less than 60 percent white by 1940. The white population share of around 60 percent was fairly constant from 1880 to 1940.

Edward “Boss” Crump dominated Memphis politics for most of the first half of the 20th century. He managed to buy off some black leaders with patronage, often with money from illicit businesses, and used the white police force to break black opponents he couldn’t buy off. Today, somewriterscall this a “Reign of Terror.”

However, he gradually lost control over black voters, failing to maintain a balancing act of depending on black votes and calling himself a friend to blacks while not giving them power. In 1943, the black labor organizer A. Philip Randolph spoke in Memphis and denounced what he called “fascism in Memphis” — quite a charge during World War II. In 1948, Crump’s rule collapsed, when blacks helped elect his enemy, Democrat Estes Kefauver, to the US Senate. In Memphis, it seems one race was always ruling the other.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ordered desegregation. The Tennessee Historical Quarterly wrote that while many Tennessee politicians weren’t enthusiastic about the decision, many simply told their constituents to obey. THQ also says that in the 1940s and 1950s, blacks had run voting drives, leading to more than 62 percent of all eligible black voters registered by 1958, a very high figure for that period in the Civil Rights Movement. In spring 1960, sit-ins began in Memphis, and by the summer, libraries and lunch counters were desegregated.

Memphis, and Tennessee more broadly, never had the “massive resistance” of states such as Alabama and Virginia. Memphis also allowed cultural race mixing, especially in music. The “Memphis blues” — a style popular on Beale Street — generated a polyglot musical scene that became famous after the Second World War. W.C. Handy was known for “Memphis Blues,” and Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and other black artists played in the city. Elvis Presley, now portrayed as a passive recipient of black culture absorbed on Beale Street in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 film Elvis, recorded his first song in Memphis, in 1953. His home Graceland is also in Memphis.

Graceland mansion. (Credit Image: © Janet Gough/Avalon via ZUMA Press)

It may seem strange that the National Civil Rights Museum (part of the Smithsonian) is in Memphis, insofar as the city was relatively peaceful compared to Selma or Birmingham. However, it was in Memphis that James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. King was not popular at this time, because he had shifted to economic causes and was supporting a strike by garbage workers in the city. The assassination made him a martyr, and the city itself became somehow culpable; its system had symbolically “killed” King. After his death, Memphis’s decline truly began.

USA Todaywrote in 2018:

After King was killed, businesses and residents abandoned downtown, citing fears of more racial strife. Landmarks such as the Peabody hotel and Orpheum Theatre were closed. “Urban renewal” demolished entire blocks of Beale. By the end of the 1970s, downtown had lost half its population and was home to more jail inmates than residents.

Meanwhile, thousands of white parents abandoned the city and its school system for the suburbs and private, church-based schools. In 1960, the city’s population was 62 percent white. By 1980, it was 51 percent white. By 1990, Memphis was a majority black city.

Though desegregation began in Memphis schools in 1961, forced busing didn’t start until a decade later. As with so many cities, white parents fled because they did not want to send their children to majority-black schools. In 1972, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld busing in Memphis to “achieve racial balance.” The New York Times reported that “87 percent of the black students attend predominantly black schools.”

Within two years, 30,000 students left the public school system and the city had the largest private school system in the country. In 2011, the majority-black Memphis public school district merged with the majority-white Shelby Country schools. Three years later, six towns seceded from the system. By 2017, Memphis schools were more segregated than they were in 1971; just 7 percent of students were white. In 2018, the Washington Postpublished a hostile piece about the secession effort, urging complaints to the US Education Department.

Such articles ignore what integration means for white students. Here is a release about the latest state test results:

On the 2022 TCAP exam, 9% of students in the state-run Achievement School District, 22% of MSCS [Memphis Shelby County Schools] students, and 36% of Tennessee students demonstrated proficiency in English. In Math, 6% of students in the state-run Achievement School District, 13% of MSCS students, and 30% of Tennessee students demonstrated proficiency.

The schools reflect demographics. In 1980, there was still a slim white majority of 51.3 percent. By 1990, just 43.7 percent of residents were white; in 2000, 34.4 percent, in 2010, 29.4 percent, in 2020, just 27.9 percent.

As blacks took power, they erased white history. In 2013, the city council renamed three parks that honored Confederates. In 2017, it removed a statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and in 2020, it decided to dig him and his wife up rebury them 200 miles away. Even Andrew Jackson isn’t safe in Memphis. In 2021, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art removed a picture of President Andrew Jackson from display.

Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in Forrest Park (now Health Sciences Park). Credit: Thomas R Machnitzki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When the Forrest statue came down, then-mayor of Memphis, a black man named A.C. Wharton, explained that the general was from “a time gone by,” one that’s “not a time to be honored.” What will historians say about the current time? The Census Bureau reports blacks are more than 64 percent of the city. Like Baltimore, also black and struggling, its population is falling. Despite, or perhaps because of, gun-control, Memphis is one of the highest-crime cities in America. In 2021, it broke its own homicide record, with a count of 346. Some sources put the figure at 342.

Several publications, using different methods and data, have called Memphis one of the most dangerous cities in America. CBS, using FBI Crime Data from 2019, ranked Memphis the third most unsafe city in the country, with a violent crime rate of 1,901 per 100,000 residents. (St. Louis and Detroit were worse). Earlier this year, MonkeyGeek, cited by Forbes, used crime data and an analysis of the economic costs of crime to call Memphis the sixth most dangerous city in America. In 2021, the website 24/7 Wall Street rated Memphis the most dangerous city in America.

Tucker Carlson talked about Memphis recently in a powerful monologue. He spoke about the city’s past glories, when it still honored the history that so embarrassed former Mayor Wharton. Today, he said, Memphis is a “husk and a highly threatening one.”

Eliza Fletcher learned too late just how threatening it was. Her family was wealthy, but she decided to teach kindergarten. Now she’s dead. On September 2, a black man kidnaped and murdered her.

The suspect is Cleotha Henderson, a career criminal. He’s racked up more than a dozen charges, including aggravated assault, rape, and evading arrest. Mr. Henderson has spent more than half his life in prison. Despite a court ordering that he serve “100%” of a 24-year sentence, he was released early. The district attorney seems confused about how that happened. He is Steve Mulroy, another “progressive prosecutor” who ran on a pro-diversity, soft-on-crime platform that won praise from the ACLU. He just took office, so he may not understand his job yet.

There was another failure. Mr. Henderson was a suspect in a 2021 kidnapping and rape case. However, he was never indicted because no one bothered to test his DNA until after the latest murder. He was recently was charged in the 2021 case.

A number of people — mostly whites, judging from the photos — held “Liza’s Run,” which was supposed to demonstrate that “women should be able to safely run at any time of day.” This implies the real problem is “men.” The true danger is obvious but unspoken: black men, especially black men who spend their lives committing violent crimes.

On September 7, another black man went on a rampage. Ezekiel Kelly killed four people, wounded three, and carjacked one more. American Renaissance is not allowed on Facebook because we are too dangerous. However, Ezekiel Kelly broadcast his crimes on Facebook Live under the name “Zeek Huncho.” He had previously posed with firearms, cash, and gang signs. In one video that he streamed, after taunting his victim as a “bitch,” he screamed, “I’m killing shit for real!” One can see some hearts popping up in the bottom right-hand corner of the video, showing that at least a couple of people approved.

Black state representative Antonio Parkinson worried that police might kill Mr. Kelly.

Police arrested Mr. Kelly, who grinned from the back of the police car and in his mug shot. He was just 19, but had a record. Last year, after being charged with attempted first-degree murder, he pleaded down to aggravated assault, and then was released after just 11 months of a three-year sentence. He had been out of jail less than five months before the shooting spree. A judge imposed a gag order on the new case, so we may not find out much about the motive. Big Tech platforms have scrubbed all of his videos and social media accounts.

Mr. Kelly’s rampage was not all racial terrorism. His first victim was his “friend” and fellow black, Dewayne Tunstall. In the video he made of his attack in an AutoZone, he shot Rodolfo Berger, who appears to be white. He’s still alive. Mr. Kelly killed Richard Clark, a 62-year-old black man, at a gas station.

Allison Parker, a medical assistant, was another white victim. Mr. Kelly reportedly shot her in front of her daughter, who is 20. She posted on Instagram, “F**k this city.” It’s hard to disagree. There is a report that Allison Parker had pulled over to help Mr. Kelly, thinking he was hurt, but I haven’t seen this confirmed from primary sources or non-right wing media.

The day after the spree, two blacks made a video. Nineteen-year-old Reginald Williams said this:

Them white folks not fixin to like black people. Then, then, if them be marching on the river saying white lives matter. White folks hate black people. I’m gonna take this back to racism I hope y’ll ready. I’m fixin’ to go on ahead and go Zeek [Ezekiel Kelly] Mode on nothing but white people. I catch any white hoe on the sidewalk you gonna get popped tonight. He already shot an old white man. I’m fixing to shoot a white old lady and shit, while her grandkids in the car.

In May 2022, something called White Lives Matter Tennessee put up stickers in Memphis, which may explain Mr. Williams’s reference to White Lives Matter. He also reportedly has a criminal record and claimed to be a Crip. He said he was angry because a “white lady” commented on a Facebook post he made about “Zeek.”

Police have arrested Mr. Williams, and Mississippi police arrested another black man, Jeremy Gordon, for allegedly threatening to reenact Ezekiel Kelly’s shooting spree. Mr. Kelly appears to be something of an inspiration.

These killings were too lurid to ignore, so the media explained how we should understand them. The New York Times says, “The killing of Eliza Fletcher is a tragedy, not a morality play.” Author Margaret Renkl twice dismisses the crime as “random.” “[T]ragedies should never be reduced to tweets and talking points or turned into a narrative to justify a political agenda.” Really? This is all the Left does.

CNN says “experts” claim longer sentences won’t prevent crime. However, if Mr. Kelly and Mr. Henderson had served their full sentences, these crimes would not have happened. In another CNN story, author Jill Filipoivic calls the shortened sentences a “distraction” and faults “right-wing agitators” for promoting “bigoted storylines.”

On September 14, fivemore people were shot in Memphis. Current Memphis mayor Jim Strickland, a white man, said the problem is not the Memphis Police Department, “because they are arresting people.” “The problem is this judicial system that will not punish!” he yelled, striking the podium.

He’s right. However, who will the system punish if it cracks down on violent crime? Mostly blacks. That will make them cry racism. Whites mustn’t feel angry about the deaths of whites, because they are random and of no more moral significance than if they were struck down by disease or a natural disaster. In contrast, verbal insults to blacks, including those with no evidence that they even happened, become national news. Until this changes, the carnage will continue.

White tears will certainly not change black behavior.

The culture of “no snitching” makes it hard to fight crime. When livestream shooter Ezekiel Kelly appeared in court, the witnesses who had been subpoenaed did not. Now warrants will be issued for them.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton was right when she said our society has “superpredators” with “no conscience, no empathy, [and] we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.” President Joe Biden was right in 1993 when he said: “I don’t want to ask, ‘What made them do this?’ They must be taken off the street.”

If the post-Trump GOP can’t even say what Democrats said in the 1990s, we shouldn’t be surprised that Memphis and other cities turned out the way they did. Perhaps it’s just as well General Forrest isn’t there anymore. Memphis itself proves he was right.

And what’s the point of a National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis? The true monument to its legacy is the city itself.