On a recent flight back to Chicago from Memphis, I had a beautiful sunset view of the Mississippi River, snaking along and defining the border between Tennessee and Arkansas.
Situated in the southwest corner of Tennessee, Memphis is more akin to the Mississippi Delta and the Arkansas farmland than to east Tennessee and Appalachia. And that geography, along with the river, is woven into the city’s DNA. Its rich musical heritage was cultivated from the confluence of rural and urban, black and white.
I was born and grew up in Memphis, and I’ve been both embarrassed and defensive when confronted by criticism about the South. I was in high school when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the aftermath of that tragedy has been long-lived in Memphis.
But what I saw on this visit was an inner city where blacks and whites are living, working, and socializing together, much more so than what I see in the greater Chicago area. That’s not to say there’s no racial tension and conflict, but what I experienced seemed like a natural integration of the races that gave me hope, particularly at this point in history.
I’ve visited Memphis numerous times since I lived there. When I left this time, I felt neither embarrassed nor defensive. I had seen a camaraderie that is also present in the music.
I could more clearly envision the depth of this city’s roots and hear the diverse flavors of music that have flowed up and down the Mississippi River and spilled overseas and around the world.
I’m Paula Garrett, and that’s my perspective.