Memphis is about to mark its bicentennial May 22, and we want to create the Memphis Syllabus, a living, breathing, growing guide that captures what everyone needs to know to know our city. This project is inspired by Candice Benbow’s Lemonade Syllabus, which grounded fans in readings, films and theoretical frameworks that informed Beyonce’s 2016 richly layered visual album. Before that came Dr. Daina Ramey Berry’s #blackwomensyllabus Twitter movement started in 2015 and the Charleston Syllabus, created by professors Chad Williams, Kidada E. Williams, and Keisha N. Blain in 2015 after a white supremacist massacred nine parishioners at Bible study at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
When it comes to Memphis, where must folks begin to understand us?
What books do you need to read? What articles must you highlight? What experiences do you need to have? What music provides the lyrical throughline that explains who we are, how we are and why we are? What does the world need to know to understand and celebrate Memphis as a place worthy of knowing in a deeper way?
We’re reaching out to area thought-leaders for their ideas on what is the secret to our sauce. Most important, we want to curate readings, viewings and experiences that help people understand poverty, power and public policy in Memphis. And we want to hear from you because it is our opinion that when we know better, we do better.
Already on our list is the must-read, From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics by Otis Sanford. He examines how E.H. Crump built a political machine by wooing the black vote after he was first elected Memphis mayor.
Our list would be incomplete without journalist, educator and activist Ida B. Wells. We suggest starting with Ida In Her Own Words: The Timeless Writings of Ida B. Wells from 1893 then reading Paula J. Giddings definitive biography, Ida: A Sword Among Lions. The Rhodes College Crossroads to Freedom Collection lists must-see videos featuring oral histories of Memphis and its residents. That treasure trove also links to the LeMoyne-Owen Collection, which includes reflections written by history students at LeMoyne-Owen College in spring 1968.
This is more than bibliography: Our syllabus aims to capture the sounds and flavors of Memphis, too. That’s why Four Way Grill is already included. The venerable restaurant is not fancy at all, and you have the honor of being well fed by folks who fed civil rights leaders.
We want to know from you: Where would you go? What should folks see and experience to get to the heart of the real Memphis? Fill out the Memphis Syllabus form right here.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project and Community Change.