African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890–1980

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9780739175859: African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890–1980
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African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound is an exploration of the conditions of living for residents of a segregated subdivision in the deep south from 1890 to 1919. It is also a study of contemporary approaches to community building during a time period of racial segregation and polarization. The town of Orange Mound, built by Elzey E. Meacham as an all-black subdivision for “negroes,” represents a unique chapter in American history. There is no other case, neither in the deep South nor in the far West, of such a tremendous effort on the part of African Americans to come together to occupy a carved out space—eventually making it into a black community on the outskirts of Memphis on a former slave plantation.

The significance of “community” continues to be relevant to our ever-evolving understanding of racial and ethnic formations in the South. This ethnography of community, family, and institution in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth-century Shelby County Tennessee reveals the richness and complexity of community building through an investigation of cultural and historic community development, settlement patterns, kinship networks, and sociopolitical, economic, and religious value systems in the historic black community of Orange Mound.

This research is the product of a thorough ethnographic study conducted over a three-year period which involves participation observation, in-depth interviews, textual analysis of family histories, newspapers, census data, and local government and church records. Even though textual analysis was used throughout the text, its intent was to utilize the concepts and categories that were relevant and meaningful to the people of Orange Mound.

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About the Author:

Charles Williams received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana. Drawing upon an early interest in the cultures of developing countries and the African diaspora, Dr. Williams has developed active research inquiries into health inequities and social justice issues, HIV/STD and addiction, African and African American studies, and urban issues. He is founder and director of the African and African American Studies Program at the University of Memphis.

Review:

[T]he reader [of African American Life] is left with a sound piece of anthropological work that provides a solid basis for future research about Memphis's African American communities. (Journal of Southern History)

African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: A Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890-1980 is a fascinating portrait of a large, black neighborhood that has shaped Memphis in deep, enduring ways. A planned community built on farmland that was once part of the Deaderick Plantation, Orange Mound nurtured and supported generations of black families whose churches and schools defined their worlds. Like all black southern towns, Orange Mound sheltered its families, and Charles Williams captures their worlds in this important work. (William Ferris, University of Mississippi)

African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound is an excellent ethnographic study of a black community from its genesis during the last decade of the nineteenth century to near the end of the twentieth century. This study illuminates the lives of Orange Mound residents by allowing them to speak for themselves about how they made this community their own. In probing the lives and institutions within this very important community, Dr. Williams has made a significant contribution to American urban anthropology and history. (Frank Moorer, Alabama State University)

Founded in 1890, Orange Mound, a predominantly African American community located in Shelby County Tennessee and five-miles east of downtown Memphis, is one of the oldest residential communities in the United States built exclusively for African Americans. Originally, African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound is an exploration of the conditions of living for residents of the unincorporated subdivision in the deep south from 1890 to 1919. It is also a study of contemporary approaches to community building during a time period of racial segregation and polarization. The town of Orange Mound, built by Elzey E. Meacham as an all black subdivision for “negroes,” represents a unique chapter in American history. There is no other case, neither in the deep South nor in the far West, of such a tremendous effort on the part of African Americans to come together to occupy a carved out space—eventually making it into a black community on the outskirts of Memphis on a former slave plantation.

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