#STEEPEDINHISTORY WITH TOYOTA
I pride myself on being a loyal explorer of my own city. As a child especially an adult, I have always enjoyed discovering new places and restaurants in Memphis. Some were very popular tourist attractions and others were on a hidden path. Every single time, I learn something new and began to see the many layers of Memphis that make it such a unique place to live or visit. A weekend or so, I had the privilege to take a guided tour curated by Toyota and A Tour of Possibilities with some of my close blogger friends and guest. This tour was unlike any experience I have ever had, ever. I'm so eager to share all that I learned, saw, tasted and heard---as I got to see my beloved Memphis in a totally different light.
Early Saturday morning, we rose and shined lol, to meet for breakfast at Jim & Samella's House to formally meet everyone from Toyota and our special tour guide for the day. As I mentioned, over the years I have gotten around my fair share of Memphis. Always taking it upon myself to try a new place or walk into a new store to see what special gems they offer. I've had the chance to have lunch at Jim & Samella's during the time I lived in the neighborhood and visited a nearby church. However, I never knew how rich in history this "house" is.
Jim and Samella's House is on the national register of historic houses in Memphis which says a lot about the neighborhood and it's story. The house is located in area that was once a very highly populated Jewish community during the high days of blues and ragtime. We all learned over family-style breakfast just how important this house was historically. The Jewish community in this area loved the rag and blues performed in the night clubs. However, blacks weren't allowed in those clubs. Well, the Jewish owners of this particular house built a fully functional tunnel to run from the house to Kerr, just a block or two away, to help blacks run in the case of police raids. There isn't a tunnel anymore but it is now a restaurant staple in the Soulsville Community. The house was donated to the owners family and named after the family's grandmother and grandfather who moved here from Mississippi.
Little did many of us know we were in for one of the most special and memorable treats in historical tour history in Memphis. Mrs. Carolyn lovingly referred to as "The Queen", owner of A Tour of Possibilities, curated our entire tour experience. A Tour of Possibilities was created to share the historical and cultural gems that African Americans have contributed to Memphis, TN. Her commitment and vision is to take visitors and residents alike on an eye-opening journey that enlightens and entertains. I was thrilled to know she was our tour guide on the Steeped in History tour because I have followed her work for quite some time and knew that her perspective as a "transplant" would open my eyes to the endless possibilities of Memphis.
Over breakfast, we formally introduced ourselves and had to tell our Toyota experience. Well, I definitely had a good one to share. My family including my mom, dad and myself have all driven and owned 11 Toyotas. YUP! My first car was a Tercel, we've had Corollas, Crezidas, Avalons, Tundras, and now I'm back in a Toyota. The wonderful thing though is I have never driven a Camry so I was ready for it's driving possiblities on the tour lol.
Breakfast was just want it was intended to be--nourishing and filling to the soul. We were served endless portions of shrimp and grits, might I add the best I have ever had in my life. Let's see, savory and sweet chicken and waffles, fried pork chops, eggs, smothered potatoes, and he even fried fish. The icing on the breakfast was the self serve Kool-Aid---only in Memphis.
The Toyota Steeped in History now commenced with a drive downtown Memphis to the Mississippi River. The Queen loves to begin her tour at the River because quite honestly it's physical location was the reason for Memphis's conception as a city. The River brought lots of commerce with cotton and slave trade being it's highest economic commodity. Makes total sense why our next stop would be Slavehaven. The area now known as Uptown was once a bustling area for the slave trade. Slavehaven the home of a German immigrant, Jacob Burkle secretly operated a safe house for slaves on the Underground Railroad Journey. We didn't get a chance to go inside but I've been a couple of times in the past and it's a life changing treat that I suggest everyone experience.
Our next stop moved everyone on the tour. I mean everyone for several reasons. The African American Museum Foundation hidden in the once bustling New Chicago community of North Memphis was a intense and educational museum full of thousand and when I say thousand artifacts of African American history. Dr. Atwater has committed herself wholeheartedly to collecting artifacts that range from chains, shackles and whips, to negro spirituals, slave transactions, Yoruba masks, Tuskeegee airmen documents, Sammie Davis Junior estate, Martin Luther King's obituaries and telegrams to Coretta Scott King---the list could go on and on and on.
I will just tell you this place is a place you HAVE to visit. You have too!!!
AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM FOUNDATION | 1098 Firestone Avenue Memphis, TN 38103
Next on the stop, the historical Clayborn Temple. Rich in history, Clayborn Temple originally was congregational home of Second Presybterian Church then after 50 years of worshipping became the home of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It's black historical significance began when it became the hub of the civil rights movement here in Memphis. It is at Clayborn Temple of Dr. Kings most famous and successful contributions to Memphis history and his legacy began. The I AM A MAN signs for The Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 were distributed at Clayborn Temple.
While downtown, we took a quick trip over a block to Beale Street to visit the home of W.C Handy founder of the Blues and the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery. Located at 333 Beale Street, in Ernest Withers’ last working studio the museum documents in photographs all of Withers work documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis and more.
We all jumped back into our Camry's and headed over to South Memphis for the next part of the Steeped in History Tour. Our first stop brought cheers to my heart. Mason Temple the location of Dr. King's last speech in Memphis. As we all stood outside the gates of Mason Temple, The Queen played the audio for the famous I've Been to the Mountaintop speech and you heard silence. However, you felt a strong surge of emotions as we stood there quietly listen to his last words to motivate all black people.
From there we went over to the high energy Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios that has captured so much of Memphis music history past and present. Our tour guides was one of Willie Mitchell's daughters who was such a warm and bubbly tour guide who exuded passion and love for her dad's studio. Growing up in the studio, she had many stories to tell--many both past and present.
For example, if you ever heard Al Green's Love and Happiness--remember that "kack kack" sound at the beginning? It was this Coca-Cola box that made that sound. Of course she stomped on it and we all were like YASSSSSSSSSSSS LOL. She showed us the masters to Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk recorded by Bruno Mars in this very studio.
Now that we are discovering the possibilities of Memphis music present, we visited the Stax and Soulsville area to tour Memphis Slim Collaboratory. In the area’s heyday, it wasn’t uncommon to find iconic Soulsville musicians hanging out on the porch at 1130 College Street. That was the home of famed blues singer and pianist John “Peter” Chatman, better known to friends and audiences worldwide as Memphis Slim. After years of dispair, it has now been redeveloped and reimagined as Memphis Slim’s house by Community LIFT, so that future generations of Soulsville musicians will have a place to gather, rehearase, learn and create legendary music once again.
Leaving Royal Studios, we drove through a very poverty stricken and underdeveloped area of South Memphis. Honestly, I was saddened and my spirit was breaking. I couldn't understand why poverty struck the black community in areas of Memphis like this after years of black entrepreneurship and strides of integration. How could so many houses be vacant? How could the area look so broke down and poor and despair like this? Who is doing the work to help, to pull people out of struggle. Then we turned the corner and I felt this light and almost Godly feeling as we pulled up to Green Leaf Learning Farm.
There is so much to share about Knowledge Quest. It began in 1998 with the premise of youth development and has evolved into an organization that builds stronger community by “building” the people within the community. The matters of healthy young people, healthy communities, healthy families, and a healthy society are all bound together. Knowledge Quest is designed to be the “tie” that binds. The Main Campus operates as a site for the School-Age Academy and across the street sits Green Leaf, the 2/3-acre certified USDA-organic urban micro-farm that acts as both a productive farm and an educational tool for Academy students and community stakeholders. Knowledge Quest is actively working grassroots to be the social change agent to break the cycles of poverty and undereducation in our youth. For me, this stop on the tour vividly showed the possibilities of Memphis.
After a full 7 hour day, we ended our tour with dinner at H&M Lounge a posh black owned restaurant in Midtown Memphis. We needed all of what we indulged in at H&M--great food, entertainment and an opportunity to wrap up our tour with dialogue around the places we visitied and how we were inspired by the tour.
I don't have the words to really say how much I needed, enjoyed and loved this opportunity afforded by Toyota. The entire experience was amazing. My eyes and heart were open to new ways to see Memphis. For a girl who thought she has seen every little crevice of the city--I had not. Especially not in the way, The Queen showed us. It was amazing.
YOU MUST GET OUT AND TOUR MY BELOVED MEMPHIS FOR YOURSELF AND BE SURE TO STOP AT SOME OF THE PLACES THAT ARE SO #STEEPEDINHISTORY.
THANKS AGAIN TOYOTA AND A TOUR OF POSSIBILITIES.