Photo courtesy Memphis Library
Boss Crump's political machine formed Memphis for years to come, writes Lauterbach.
“Inequality is enforced in Memphis, and it always has been,” writes author Preston Lauterbach for Places Journal, a publication devoted to contemporary architecture, landscape, and urbanism. Lauterbach, a former staff writer for Memphis magazine, has gained recognition for his histories of the Bluff City, Beale Street Dynasty and The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll. His article for Places, “Memphis Burning,” traces a history of housing discrimination against middle-class black Memphians throughout the 20th century, from the demise of south Downtown’s Lauderdale street at the hands of the Crump political machine to disgraced planner Robert Lipscomb’s far-reaching urban development schemes.
Lauterbach’s article is notable not only for the author’s meticulous research but for the power of the argument: Memphis’ growth, writes Lauterbach, was intentionally thwarted by a segregationist political machine. Later urbanist schemes, put forth by Lipscomb, favored big business and left neighborhood-based businesses and organizations without ample resources. What has happened with the splintering school system in the past decade has reinforced age-old trends that serve to limit the city’s progress.
“Memphis Burning” deserves our full attention. It's a story that is too-infrequently told but that rings undeniably true. At the article’s conclusion, Lauterbach notes that Foote Homes, long a symbol of the failures of heavy-handed policy, will be torn down this year, its residents relocated: “The future,” writes Lauterbach, “begins with destruction.”