An Unseen Light

An Unseen Light

Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee

Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century

Edited by Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Contributions by Elizabeth Gritter, Brian D. Page, Darius Young, Elton H. Weaver III, David Welky, Beverly Greene Bond, Jason Jordan, Laurie B. Green, Steven A. Knowlton, Charles L. Hughes, Anthony C. Siracusa, James Conway, Shirletta Kinchen, Zandria F. Robinson and Michael K. Honey

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

422 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.00 in, 15 b/w photos

  • Paperback
  • 9780813153179
  • Published: January 2022


  • Hardcover
  • 9780813175515
  • Published: April 2018



During the second half of the nineteenth century, Memphis, Tennessee, had the largest metropolitan population of African Americans in the Mid-South region and served as a political hub for civic organizations and grassroots movements. On April 4, 1968, the city found itself at the epicenter of the civil rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. Nevertheless, despite the many significant events that took place in the city and its citizens' many contributions to the black freedom struggle, Memphis has been largely overlooked by historians of the civil rights movement.

In An Unseen Light, eminent and rising scholars offer a multidisciplinary examination of Memphis's role in African American history during the twentieth century. Together, they investigate episodes such as the 1940 "Reign of Terror" when black Memphians experienced a prolonged campaign of harassment, mass arrests, and violence at the hands of police. They also examine topics including the relationship between the labor and civil rights movements, the fight for economic advancement in black communities, and the impact of music on the city's culture. Covering subjects as diverse as politics, sports, music, activism, and religion, An Unseen Light illuminates Memphis's place in the long history of the struggle for African American freedom.