Tailgating at the Southern Heritage Classic

Southern Heritage Classic / Google Photos

For more than 20 years, the annual Southern Heritage Classic football game has been the largest African-American event in Memphis, attracting thousands of people from many different states, many of whom have no interest in football. In fact, the overwhelming majority of attendees come to enjoy the festive party atmosphere at Tiger Lane outside of the Liberty Bowl stadium, with plenty of good food, live music, DJ’s, dancing and vendors. Tents are sponsored by large Memphis companies, such as FedEx or K-97 Radio, by city government, by Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers fan clubs, by local fraternities such as Alpha Phi Alpha, and many other organizations and individuals. Although Memphis is a large city, and the tailgating grounds are quite crowded, it’s easy to run into people you know at the Southern Heritage Classic tailgate, and it’s always a lot of fun.

Late Afternoon at the Southern Heritage Classic

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The Southern Heritage Classic tailgating is an all-day party, and the festivities continue in full swing until sunset. Even though some people finally enter the Liberty Bowl and attend the game, many enjoy the barbecue, music and dancing at their tents until late in the evening.

Tailgating at Tiger Lane During The Southern Heritage Classic

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The tailgating at the Southern Heritage Classic is like a gigantic party at Memphis’ Tiger Lane outside the Liberty Bowl. There are tents and campers sponsored by all kinds of organizations- Black fraternities and sororities, Cowboy and Steeler fan clubs, DJ coalitions, Memphis businesses like Coors and FedEx and more. People run into people they know everywhere, and vendors are set up selling everything from food to T-shirts. The grassy midway becomes home to a lot of pickup football games, and the smell of barbecue is everywhere. Some tents have buffet lines, and even professional DJ’s to keep the party atmosphere rolling. Many of these people will never enter the stadium, but they have a great time anyway.

Standing Against the Ku Klux Klan at the Heart of Memphis Rally at Tiger Lane, 3/30/13

Saturday was the day the Ku Klux Klan was coming to Memphis to protest the city’s decision to rename three Confederate-named parks including one that honored the founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest. Because the last Klan rally in Memphis back in 1998 had ended in tear gas, vandalism and violence, a number of community groups organized an alternative event called Heart of Memphis at Tiger Lane near the Liberty Bowl, with food trucks, live music, events for the kids and workshops. Unfortunately, the same rains that disrupted the Klan rally downtown also made a washout of the Heart of Memphis event. The music stage had to be moved indoors, and attendance was hindered by the weather. But workshops were held, including the Peoples’ Conference on Race and Equality sponsored by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, which had my friend Dr. Coby Smith as a panelist, and Mayor Wharton briefly spoke. My friends from the I Am Memphis clothing line were also there, as were the good folks from Rock N Dough Pizza.

The Alpha Phi Alphas step at their tailgate event at the Southern Heritage Classic, Tiger Lane, Memphis TN, 9/8/12

The Alpha Phi Alphas step at their tailgate event at the Southern Heritage Classic, Tiger Lane, Memphis TN, 9/8/12