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VOL. 132 | NO. 101 | Monday, May 22, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Centennial, Hackett Retires -- Sort Of and Baseball Dreams

By Bill Dries

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Monday marks 100 years since a mob took Ell Persons off a train and to the Macon Road Bridge across the Wolf River and burned him alive. It was the lynching that gave birth to the Memphis Branch NAACP one month later. The national NAACP field office investigator who came to Memphis at great personal peril to investigate Person’s death was none other than James Weldon Johnson, the man who also composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

In 1917, the Macon Road Bridge was a pretty busy thoroughfare for a country road. A century later it doesn’t exist except for two bridge supports without a bridge overwhelmed by thick undergrowth and vines by the oxbow lake that was once part of the Wolf River and still could be if the water gets that high.

Persons and the teenager he was accused of raping and killing, Antoinette Rappel, were both remembered at the prayer service and unveiling of not one but two historical markers – neither one involving the Tennessee Historical Commission. That follows the historical commission’s change of wording in the NAACP’s Memphis Massacre marker last year that ultimately went up independent of the state commission.

And there was some discussion of New Orleans’ recent removal of Confederate monuments with no notice as well as criminal justice today compared to 100 years ago.

But what I will remember for quite some time is a lot of Memphians, who didn't know one another in many cases, on a hot Sunday together on a narrow hard-to-reach dirt-trail through a thickly wooded area to get to what’s left of the bridge where Persons was burned alive and where earlier the body of Rappel had been found. As dirt trails go, this one was narrow with plenty of twists and turns and nearly solid walls of trees and brush and vines on each side. It also included rose petals along the way that were a part of marking a horrible day in the city’s history as well as our hope that 100 years later we are different even as some of the elements of the story of Persons and Rappel feel familiar 17 years into the 21st century.

Psyche. All of the social media chatter about a protest by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens at the barbecue contest Saturday was a diversion. The protest was in Overton Square Saturday afternoon – about 15 minutes of street theater on Madison outside several businesses with patios. It’s the latest effort from the group behind the die-in on Mayor Jim Strickland’s lawn last year and the August Graceland protest that is the subject of a still-pending federal court lawsuit.

As for the barbecue contest in Tom Lee Park:

The World Championship goes to Big Bob Gibson, the team from Decatur, Ala. It is the 5th MIM World Championship for BBG. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) This is no small feat. Consider that there are 400 judges involved across of the categories of the competition. Nevertheless Big Bob, let’s not have any more of those Alabama barbecue billboards on Beale.

Other congrats to Bad Pig BBQ of Bartlett at the top of the Patio Porkers category; Yazoo’s Delta Q of Hernando in Whole Hog; Big Bob Gibson for Shoulder; 10 Bones BBQ of Olive Branch for Ribs; Uncle Murle’s BBQ Team of Cordova for Seafood; Smokin’ With an Attitude of Rossville for Poultry and Swino’s of Memphis for Exotic. I think that last one is the category that used to be “road kill.”

The Shed, of Ocean Springs, Miss., took the Kingsford Tour of Champions prize.

Former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett is retiring, in a way, from the post of CEO of the Children’s Museum of Memphis. He will be working on fundraising for the Grand Carousel – the restoration and relocation of the Fairgrounds iconic and historic carousel used by generations of Memphis since its arrival here from Chicago in the 1920s. When Hackett talks about working seven days a week at CMOM, he is not kidding. The museum employee you may have seen waving in cars to the museum parking when there is a Tiger football game at the Liberty Bowl is the former mayor of the city.

Hackett’s focus in his post-mayoral efforts has been very disciplined and very specific at both St. Jude ALSAC and CMOM. So when he made some comments to the group “Friends of the Fairgrounds” about the possibilities for Midtown in general with the Fairgrounds as its center – more than a few folks in the audience were surprised. And even though the group knew of the carousel plans, seeing the plans start to take shape helped to build the excitement that Hackett hopes will translate to the fundraising effort.

The budget season continues Monday at the Shelby County Commission and so far this is turning out to be a pretty normal budget year. But that’s “so far.”

Election day and early voting in the same busy week. Mix with a splash of water and the last day of the school year and you have the week going into the Memorial Day holiday.

A good indication of how much baseball talent there is at the high school and college level in Memphis these days is that there wasn’t enough room in Don Wade’s excellent cover story for The Memphis News to include a comprehensive list. The story is a look at what is largely in the shadow of the Memphis basketball and football prospects that are heavily recruited. The same is happening for baseball players with some of the same concerns and advice even though the game and system is much different for baseball. Our story includes a Q&A with Dr. Robert Miller of Campbell Clinic who talked about whether athletes at this stage should go all in for one sport or play what they want. He comes down on the side of sports diversity. As you might expect, the wealth of baseball talent is no accident. There are institutions nurturing this talent even if the concept of sandlot baseball is a foreign concept in much of the city that, along with the game, has to be explained.

The cover story refers to this specifically, but here is a separate story that goes into more detail on Sam Moll, the University of Memphis, St. Benedict pitcher now with the Colorado Rockies organization who may be about to make the big show.

The city's former pedestrian and bicycle coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz in town last week for the Tennessee Bike Summit and some remarks about bike culture that might surprise you. A sample: "If you have a bicycle lane on a 50 mile per hour highway, who is that actually serving?"

You might notice a shortage of retail real estate brokers around town this week. They may be in Las Vegas for the annual RECon convention. And Shawn Massey of The Shopping Center Group’s Memphis office says the convention is more like a stock market than a party. He’s got more than 40 meetings set up in three days with retailers he is trying to sell on Memphis. And he is not the only person selling Memphis to the folks who want to sell you their products.

Memphis Police and the District Attorney General’s office put a lot of drugs on the table late last week with a heroin bust that includes ties to the Grape Street Crips street gang and 25 defendants including a mail carrier.

A note by email Friday from Sylvain Vertez of Zwijndrecht, Belgium who is among the more devoted Elvis fans who come here on a regular basis from overseas. He commented on our piece last week about the plans by Graceland for a very robust Elvis Week schedule this August on what is the 40th anniversary of Presley’s death as well as the first Elvis Week since the two projects that expanded the Graceland campus in Whitehaven opened.

In our piece, we referred to the Elvis tribute artist contests that Graceland has embraced in recent years and the unsanctioned competitions before that including one at Bad Bob’s Vapors, a now legendary supper club on Brooks Road.

Vertez informs us this is the 30th anniversary year of the Images of the King World Championship as it is known, which has since moved to the New Daisy on Beale. This is not the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest that Graceland is overseeing.

And while we are on the subject, before there was Bad Bob’s Vapors there was the Vapors, also on Brooks Road, as detailed in the Crème de Memphis blog post from awhile back.

A very busy Memphis News Almanac: Dickinson Plays the Shell, Pinkerton’s at the Golf Tournament, Name Change for Cotton Carnival, MLGW buys Arlington’s water system and Grizz vs Spurs 2013.

PROPERTY SALES 56 94 12,852
MORTGAGES 23 50 8,053
BUILDING PERMITS 285 422 30,356
BANKRUPTCIES 23 67 6,131