150th Anniversary of the Memphis Massacre

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.

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12 comments… add one
  • Ronald E. Walker May 7, 2016 @ 0:54

    I just purchased Ash’s book, lived in Memphis years ago, and am looking forward to reading it. I hope Kevin will write an article on the upcoming anniversary of the New York Draft and Race Riots in July, 1863. That made Memphis look like a walk in the park.

    • Kevin Levin May 7, 2016 @ 1:33

      It was indeed. I have written about it before. The events commemorating the Memphis Riot are part of the 150th anniversary, which is why I devoted a post to it.

  • David Kent May 3, 2016 @ 6:57

    This post is exactly why I love Kevin’s blog. You never know what you might learn on any given day. And then you have people like Andy Hall, and Bob, who provide links to other new things to learn. You also have the occasional scv or flagger who come on, and type tomes on how all of these true historians are wrong! That just adds entertainment value, as they are immediately shot down by all of these people who really know what they’re talking about! Keep it up Kevin.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2016 @ 8:13

      Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read.

  • bob carey May 3, 2016 @ 0:25

    I believe the City and the University of Memphis should be commended for having the political and moral courage to confront the past in todays’ volatile social climate.

  • Forester May 2, 2016 @ 23:07

    Hey, Kevin. Sorry to make such a shameless plug, but you might be interested in this piece I wrote for the local media. Norfolk also had a racial riot incident in 1866, though not nearly as severe as Memphis. I actually mentioned the Memphis riot briefly at the end.


    You might be interested to know that most of the people involved, on both sides, were Crater veterans. Specifically, the Yankee commander, the USCTs, and the rogue firefighters. I didn’t mention the Crater in this article, but it’s not hard to see how the lingering bitterness from that battle could motivate peoples’ actions in the Reconstruction.

    This is my first ever published work …. and my first jump from blog lurking to actual writing. 🙂

  • David Kent May 2, 2016 @ 14:51

    When I see stories like this, it makes me sick to my stomach. And when I see people trying to make amends 150 Years Later, (I suppose better late than never!), it gives me hope. My wife always tells me, (and we’ve been married 34 years), that I always see the glass half empty!!!

  • Sandi Saunders May 2, 2016 @ 14:32

    I listened to the NPR piece this evening and I was shocked at the state historical group insisting the plaque/marker be titled “Race Riots” and I was happy to hear the group did not cave to that deliberate effort to obfuscate the issue. The truth must be faced and owned.

  • Pat Young May 2, 2016 @ 14:13
    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2016 @ 14:14

      Thanks, Pat. I’ve seen a good deal of local and national coverage, which is very encouraging.

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