On Sunday, when the kids knock on your door, they’ll ask the Halloween question: Trick or treat? 

To be clear: The only answer is “treat.” 

But that’s not always true of our policies, policymakers, and living conditions. Here’s our list (so far) of the times Memphians got tricked and the moments when life brought treats this year. 


No one wins

In May, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill sponsored by House Republican Rep. Tim Rudd that Rudd said protects transgender people by letting them know which businesses and public spaces have restrooms they can use. The trick? The legislation is confusing and nearly impossible to enforce, critics say. And no one was made safer. 

A safe place?

On April 8, Lee signed a new law that allows most adults to carry a handgun without a permit as part of his “public safety agenda” to make Tennessee safer. It went into effect on July 1. In September, Shelby County DA Amy Weirich said we were on track to beating last year’s number of homicides. She attributed some of the rise to … yep, the permitless carry laws.

In September, Veronica Miller received an email from her Cordova apartment complex that listed a new rental rate of $1,700 for an apartment that was $1,000 pre-pandemic. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

The rents are too darn high

Sure, there are jobs available. But because of, among other reasons, a competitive for-sale housing market, rents in Memphis rose 19%—higher than the national median, and faster than wages at traditionally low-pay jobs (See below). If you manage to find a place, you might have to get another job to afford rent. Which means little time in that new home. 

Whose history?

Gov. Lee had more tricks up his sleeves in May when he signed a law banning teachers from instruction that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” also incorrectly known as critical race theory. Violators could lead to the state education commissioner withholding funds from schools. It was quite the sleight of hand since it’s not clear critical race theory has ever been taught in Shelby County schools.

Not all good in the neighborhood

According to an Urban Institute report MLK50 wrote about in July, not only does Memphis get little charitable or private money to develop neighborhoods, when it does, the money goes to white neighborhoods. On top of that, the studies’ researchers found that while Memphis is known for its giving heart, only a few of its nonprofits have the ability to take on the kind of complex development projects that would make change. 


Ida forever

On the 159th anniversary of her birth, Ida B. Wells—civil rights activist, journalist, crusader—was honored with an outdoor statue at the corner of Fourth and Beale streets, more than 130 years after a white mob’s destruction of her newspaper offices drove her away. It was an honor bestowed on few Black women nationally. And, it was a moment deeply felt and long overdue. 

A statue of Ida B. Wells was unveiled in July at a new plaza on the corner of Fourth and Beale Streets. In attendance was Wells’s family: Michelle Duster, her great-granddaughter; Tiana Farrell, her great-grandniece, Jasmine, 3, her great-great-grandniece, Daniel Duster, her great-grandson. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Let freedom ring

This year’s Juneteenth event was particularly celebratory. Held at the Health Sciences Park in the Medical Center, it happened on the grounds that recently held the bodies of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Forrest Bedford and his wife, and until 2017, displayed a statue of the general on horseback. One sour note: the Bedford bodies were exhumed about a week too soon; Ol’ Nathan and the missus lost the chance to roll over in their graves to the joyful sounds of Black freedom. 

Mo money

With an unprecedented number of jobs available (and people being selective about filling them), service jobs are seeing a rise in wages, to hourly rates that are almost livable. That’s right: you could work at a restaurant or grocery store and make enough to eat there or shop on your day off.  

A little ingenuity

It seems like a simple idea: Bring COVID-19 vaccinations to places where members of the Latino community typically gather. That and other community-centered fixes successfully cut through hesitancy and accessibility issues and since August, vaccination rates have increased steadily. 

People power wins

Although the developers blamed the failure of the Byhalia Pipeline Connection project on a pandemic-related dip in oil production, we think it’s fair to say that the people of Southwest Memphis deserve a lot of credit. And so, on July 2,  when the project’s demise was announced, their victory was sweeter than 1,000 candy corns. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com

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