In 2019, Memphis celebrates its 200th anniversary as a city. It would be very difficult to put into one book the incredible stories that have defined our community over the last two centuries. In my earliest brainstorming sessions, however, all of my thoughts tied back to one truth: it’s the people who make the city, and Memphis has always had extraordinary people.
Our amazing journey has inspired ideas that have changed the world. How would music sound to an international audience without the kid who walked into 706 Union Avenue to record a song for his mother, sparking the imagination of a forward-thinking producer? What would global logistics look like without the college student who submitted a term paper outlining overnight delivery service? Where would the hope be for children everywhere without the entertainer who promised to honor St. Jude—if the saint would only help him get his life on track? What would your experience be going to the grocery store, staying in a hotel or shopping for autoparts without the game-changing ideas that originated in Memphis? Here, we didn’t just manufacture things according to a template. We created. And sometimes, we revolutionized.
Our success wasn’t always a sure thing. Slavery, the Civil War, yellow fever, political machines, segregation and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. threatened our city in various ways. But they also pushed us to move forward. And in spite of, or because of, our challenges, we’ve seen true Memphis champions emerge, committed to defining our city for good.
These stories and countless others have earned Memphis a reputation as a city of dreamers. From my vantage point, I see something greater. I see the dreamers, each with a dynamic vision for Memphis. I see leaders in business, faith, education and culture who share their vision. I see dreamers and leaders working with private citizens to turn vision into reality. I see political leaders lending support to each vision; generous individuals and organizations providing funding. Together, we are Memphians answering the call to shape our city into the place we know today: a place where big, sometimes unorthodox, ideas are welcome. Where music is legendary. Where a civil rights legacy lives on. Where neighborhoods are vital. Where we come together to enjoy our iconic riverfront, attractions, parks, events and food.
This book, then, is a snapshot of the things that began as dreams, of the doers who made them reality and of the city they define today. For the last quarter of a century, I’ve had the unique privilege of being right in the middle of it while leading the promotion of our city to the world. There’s a reason Memphis is visited by more than 11 million people annually—we have a lot to celebrate.
As we commemorate our 200th birthday, enjoy this perspective on Memphis, a special place with special people.