Today is the anniversary of the racial violence that engulfed the city of Memphis, Tennessee between May 1 – 3, 1866. The violence followed shortly after a shooting altercation between recently mustered out black Union soldiers and a white policeman. The violence can be tracked along racial and ethnic lines. There are a number of events taking place in Memphis to mark the anniversary, including what promises to be an excellent symposium at the University of Memphis later this month. A new historical marker was also recently dedicated.
It’s encouraging to see the city taking such an interest in marking this difficult anniversary, especially following the divisive debates about Forrest Park and other public spaces named in honor of Confederate leaders. I suspect that Memphis is one place under consideration as a possible NPS site to interpret Reconstruction. Below is a recent lecture by historian Stephen Ash on the event.
I also highly recommend Ash’s excellent book, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War. I do hope we see more high-profile commemorations of other important events from the Reconstruction Era. This is a history that has long been mythologized and which few Americans know anything about.