The introduction opens with Richard Wright, adrift and morose amidst the vagaries of Jim Crow Memphis, and pans back to examine the political and social circumstances of the segregated city, from blues music on Beale Street to the vice trade to the Crump machine. It later skips to Martin Luther King, delivering his majestic “Mountaintop” speech at Mason Temple on the eve of his assassination, proclaiming that “something is happening in Memphis,” rallying the masses for an unprecedented political mobilization. But the introduction asks us to consider “unseen lights”—the people, movements, and narratives that sustained a longer, broader movement for black freedom in Memphis. The city’s African American history is more than blues music and Martin Luther King, though it is those things, too. As the introduction argues, African American politics and culture in Memphis are only now beginning to gain the sustained attention of a body of scholars, as reflected in this landmark collection of essays.
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