There is no better place in the United States to celebrate and honor Black History Month than Memphis, TN. With a population of over 650,000, Black Memphians make up over 65 percent of the Bluff City. Our city’s foundation is hammered by the accomplishments, contributions and triumphs of African Americans from Robert R. Church to Maxine Smith, from Penny Hardaway to Brandice Daniel, Memphians continue to make strides in the 901 and across the country.
To assist with having an impactful month, we’re compiling a game plan for a full day of Black History Month activities. Grab a friend, a boo or your family and make it a tradition.
You won’t regret waking up early for breakfast at the new and Black-owned Eggzactly Breakfast & Deli, located in 1248 Marlin Road in Whitehaven. The once beauty and barber shop took over a year to transform by owners Wendell and Adrena Jackson. “A cutting edge breakfast and deli” menu includes chicken and waffles, Beale Street Bourbon French Toast, and “The Mansion,” their signature breakfast platter. While you wait for your mountain of good food, pick up a copy of Memphis’ first Black owned newspaper, The Tri-State Defender. Founded by the late Bernal Smith Sr., and ran successfully by the late Bernal Smith, Jr., The Tri-State Defender reports and covers local and national issues of interest to African Americans including politics, development, and special events. Support journalism and consider buying a subscription.
One of the best and underrated ways to engulf yourself in Memphis culture and history is touring the Memphis Heritage Trail and checking out the markers of historic events and people of Memphis. You can do this easily with a Bird Scooter (grab a good coat and gloves) and cascade the borders of Beale Street, Main Street, Crump Boulevard and Manassas Street. The trail covers the “rich business, cultural and musical heritage of African-American movement in Memphis.” These Memphis communities were built by the hands of African-Americans, native Memphians who carried the passion to see their families and generations after them attain access to happiness and freedom. That history and tenacity, you’ll find, still runs deeply in the blood of many Memphians today. You can pick up a map at memphisheritagetrail.com/maps.
After burning off calories on the trail, zip over to the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s a staple in Memphis, and a must-visit during this time of year. The museum has recently undergone its own set of renovations, under past President, Beverly Robertson, a Black woman and native Memphian who now sits as President of the Greater Memphis Chamber. Under the present leadership of Terri Freeman, the museum has made newer strides towards community engagement and social justice events. Many of the exhibits are interactive and require much pause time to take in the history from slavery to the election on President Obama. If you’ve never been before or you’re revisiting for the 100th time in your Memphis life, always stop and inhale the air and chilling essence of the Lorraine Motel exhibit where Dr. King stood for the last time. For us, by us – the museum helps put a renewed perspective and motivation for affecting change in our city.
Let’s be honest – the museum is a lot to take in all at once. You need time to reflect and decompress, and – you’re hungry again. A stone’s throw away from the museum is LunchBox Eats, 288 S 4th Street, near the FedEx Forum. Another Black-owned gem, LunchBox Eats “ain’t nothing to play with.” Remember that episode of the Boondock when Grandpa opened his own restaurant that was so good, everyone had to take a nap afterwards? This is that, but healthier and greener. The school house themed space offers a hearty menu of sandwiches and entrées from gourmet to soul food. Our personal favorite is the Class Turkey Valedictorian and the Graduation Burger. Need healthier options? There’re options ranging from kale chips, chickpea crunch, corn on the cob and avocado jo-jo (try this!). And the lemonade is fresh with a different flavor every day. And don’t skip dessert. From bread pudding to sweet potato pie, indulge like it’s grandma’s Sunday dinner.
Don’t even try it. Y’all sleepy. Take a nap. Try again in an hour or so.
It’s time for the second leg of the day, and if the nap didn’t slow you down too bad, head over to Orange Mound and check out The CMPLX art gallery for their featured exhibit, The Audacity. This exhibit explores the fictional worlds of Black superheroes, manga and fantasy lands and features artists like Mia Saine, Toonky Berry, David Yancy, and more. Its super dope and unique experience being led by Victoria Jones, the founder of The Collective which provides space for Black Memphis artists to create, grow and challenge systems with their art.
Visit Tri-State Bank, the city’s first Black-owned bank at 4606 Elvis Presley Blvd. One of Dr. King’s last fights in Memphis was to emphasize economic equity for African-Americans. Spend some time learning about the bank and consider opening an account (you can’t have too many accounts). As another economic equity move, consider donating to Lemoyne-Owen College’s capital fundraising campaign. The city’s very own HBCU is seeking to raise $1.2 million by June 30, 2020 in its first national fundraising campaign. Give in honor of someone you love, an African-American pioneer, or in honor of future generations who need Lemoyne to continue standing as the pillar it is to the Black community in Memphis.
You need some drip or you need a little more R&R. From shopping at a Black-owned store or picking up some Black-owned products, there are plenty of ways for you to invest in yourself while keeping a dollar circulated in our community. Check out boutiques like Dean of Fashion (5963 Summer Ave), pamper yourself at September Nail Salon (2101 Merchants Row), or pick up some hair care products like Ampro Gel or Edge Entity. It’s a great way to support Black entrepreneurship in our city while looking good doing it.
Well! It’s time to eat again. But go home and change clothes first. You’ll want to be in your best drip for the rest of the night.
Stop by Mahogany Memphis, 3092 Poplar Avenue, #11, near the Benjamin L. Hooks Library (another landmark). This is the place to really show up, show out and eat well. Their menu is a classic dedication to Black culture. A favorite cocktail is the Halle Berry or the Diana Ross. Who doesn’t want a drink named after two of the most iconic Black women in the world? Then check out dishes like the lamb chops, salmon croquettes, or a good ole fashioned ribeye. You won’t be dissatisfied, and this time you can’t go to sleep. There’s more night ahead.
You’ll need to pre-plan for this one. Check out the playlist at Hattiloo Theatre, the only Black owned playhouse in Memphis and one of three in the United States. Ekundayo Bandele has made his mark in Memphis and the world as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to protecting, preserving and appreciating arts and drama-genre. Their upcoming plays include “Women In The Pit,” a story of Black deacons selecting a new pastor for their church, only to realize the best candidate is a woman! Whew! A real scandal!
After the play sends you through a range of emotions, you’ll need to chill finally at one of the hottest, exclusive spots in town, The Pocket at Tailors Union, located at 115 Union Avenue. The Downtown Speakeasy is disguised at first-glance as a Tailor’s shop, but a slide of a barn door leads you to an eclectic, intimate but energizing bar. Upstairs is for family, but downstairs is for bae. Enjoy your favorite prosecco or a classic Old Fashioned and marvel at the numerous faces of Black elite who circulate throughout the spot. You’ll see everyone from former mayors to current CEOs. It’s the perfect networking spot or a chance to get to know your date better.
The night’s still young and your girl brought her flats in her purse. Conclude the night at the classic Paula & Raiford’s Disco, located at 14 S 2nd Street. Don’t be alarmed when you walk in. Have your cash admission in your hands (you’ve been forewarned) and prepare to dance the night away at this spot founded by a Black father and daughter duo. It’s a funky good time in there, and you’ll create lasting memories in one of the best Black-owned clubs in the city. Drinks must also be paid for in cash, so don’t play yourself.
Lit day, right? Let’s see if you and you friends are up to complete the #901BlackestHistoryDayChallenge.