An Unseen Light
Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
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.
"This rich collection covers a broad range of topics pertaining to the African American freedom struggle in Memphis, Tennessee. One of its greatest strengths is the breadth of the essays, which span a long period from the end of the civil war to the twenty-first century. An Unseen Light is a valuable addition to civil rights scholarship." -- Cynthia Griggs Fleming, author of Yes We Did?: From King's Dream to Obama's Promise
"From the aftermath of the post-Civil War race massacre to continuous violence, murder, and bitter confrontations into the twenty-first century, contributors illuminate An Unseen Light on those black Memphians forging lives nonetheless, through negotiation, protest, music, accommodation, prayer, faith and sometimes sheer stubbornness. Memphis is a principal character in this collection as a geographically and historically critical stopping point for some and home to many African Americans across class, gender, church, and political affiliations. Scholars intellectually and personally invested in the city as a site of family and community, and career, bring an unequivocal depth of understanding and richness about place and belonging that textures the pages with life, from the church pews, the music studios, or the myriad of social or political organizations, to the land itself, adding more layers to underscore how black lives have mattered in the historical grassroots building of the nation. This is thoughtful and beautiful work." -- Françoise Hamlin, author of Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle After World War II, and co-editor of These Truly Are The Brave: An Anthology of African American Writings on War and Citizenship
"This rich collection covers a broad range of topics pertaining to the African American freedom struggle in Memphis, Tennessee. One of its greatest strengths is the breadth of the essays, which span a long period from the end of the civil war to the twenty-first century . An Unseen Light is a valuable addition to civil rights scholarship." -- Cynthia Griggs Fleming, author of Yes We Did?: From King's Dream to Obama's Promise
"Offering a panoramic view of how black Memphians responded to racial exclusion and state violence, the essays sketch a long black freedom movement beginning near the end of Reconstruction, with its reverberations extending into the 21st century." -- Public Books
"The collection did an excellent job in explaining the inner workings of Memphis, TN. The works highlighted the past actions, organizing and insurgency which created the dynamics of racism, classism, social, and political power seen in modern Memphis. I recommend this collection to those interested in the shaping of a large southern city. I also recommend to new and lifelong Memphians to provide a blueprint of the historical legacy of Memphis and how this legacy continues to impact the lives of African Americans." -- Tennessee Libraries
"Published fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis in 1968, this timely work provokes contemporary reflection on the ongoing freedom struggle. This edited volume is the first of its kind on the Memphis struggle." -- Journal of Southern History
"Collections of essays often lack focus and struggle to hold a theme. This is not the case with An Unseen Light. Both of the editors and most of the sixteen contributors have strong connections to Memphis and grasp its rather unique position at the crossroads of the Deep South and the mid-South, a place governed by a rural plantation mentality, even as it often promoted a cultural and commercial vitality. Each (essay) is carefully researched and directly tied to black struggles for freedom in the city." -- Journal of American History