7 Little Know Facts About the First African-American Built Neighborhood in the United States

The Creation of Orange Mound 

In 1890, white developer E. E. Meacham purchased land from the Deaderick family, plantation owners in Memphis Tennessee.  He sold lots to African-Americans for less than $100. The subdivision was named Orange Mound and became the first all Black community in the U.S., specifically built for Black people. According to Laura Nickas for Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, “The new neighborhood bordered the Mid-South Fairgrounds to the southeast while a stronghold of the KKK bordered the fairgrounds just to the west.”

One of the Largest Concentration of Blacks outside of Harlem

The neighborhood was named after the Osage Orange hedges that had lined the former Deaderick Plantation. Almost all Blacks owned their homes. In the 1970s, Orange Mound was billed as “the largest concentration of blacks in the United States except for Harlem in New York City.” The neighborhood provided a refuge for Blacks moving to the city for the first time from rural areas. Although the streets of the early Orange Mound were unpaved, it was a vibrant community in which a mix of residences, businesses, churches, and cultural centers flourished.

Opportunities in Orange Mound 

In 1890, Melrose High School started as a girls school and was developed into a unisex school by the 1930s. In 1937, the New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA) funded a new three-story brick school that expanded the school for more students. The school is still active in the community and has produced great African-Americans like Dr. Alvin Crawford, who was the first to graduate and earn a medical degree from the University of Tennessee.

Harlem, Black Wall Street, Orange Mound 

The creation of Orange Mound meant new opportunities for Black people in Memphis. The neighborhood began to attract doctors, lawyers and businessmen who used the neighborhood to establish their careers.

“Amid the blend of diverse influences, a disproportionate number of neighborhood children grew to become successful and influential members of a wide range of professions,” explains Wkno.org.

In its height, Orange Mound was a financial Black power that was on the same level as Black Wall Street and Harlem. The financial district, Carnes Avenue, was the hub for Black businesses and was either greater or on par with the Black Wall Street when it comes to the amount of wealth being produced.

Integration

By the 1970s, integration changed the community forever. While  integration was typically seen as a good thing, it hurt Orange Mound. The wealthiest and the most skilled people moved out of the community to white neighborhoods, taking their businesses and skills with them. Younger people also moved out and left a financial chasm that still hasn’t been filled.

Famous Residents 

During the peak of community’s economic success until now, there have been many residents who went on to become athletes, civil rights leaders and groundbreaking pioneers in various fields. Orange Mound was home to Harper Brewer, the first Black Speaker pro tem of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Kenneth Whalum (junior and senior), and justices Otis Higgs, Jr., Gwen Rooks, Walter Evans, and Ernestine Hunt-Doris. Musicians such as Willie Mitchell and Carl Cunningham, and Grammy Award winner and current Stax CEO, Kirk Whalum, were part of Melrose High School’s band. Also, pro-football players, Andre Lott, Jerome Woods and Dewayne Robertson were residents of Orange Mound. Olympic Gold medalists, Sheila Echols and Rochelle Stevens, and basketball’s Larry Finch also hail from the community. Additionally, critically-acclaimed rappers Eightball & MJG call Orange Mound home.

The Present

In the 1890s and early 1900s, Blacks in Orange mound thrived at a time when most African-Americans in the South were plagued by Jim Crow and had little to no access to viable resources. Today, the community of Orange Mound has a population of 5,294 and the once prosperous community is now on life support. Crime has become an issue because of a lack of wealth and jobs. However, members of the community are actively revitalizing the community with new homes, community gardens, and investment in better facilities for Melrose High School.

source: atlantablackstar.com by

 

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