The Mid-South Coliseum was built and completed in 1964, during the administration of Memphis Mayor William B. Ingram, and for many years was an important fixture in Memphis for sports and entertainment, hosting Tiger and Memphis Tams basketball, minor league hockey, concerts and pro wrestling. For many high school seniors, it was also the location of graduation. Unfortunately, after the building of the Pyramid downtown, the Coliseum fell on hard times and was eventually closed. A master plan for Fairgrounds reuse proposed tearing it down, like so many other Memphis landmarks. But the Coliseum means so many good times and historic occasions in Memphis, and as a result, a large number of Memphis citizens have come together in an effort to rally support for preserving the historic structure. They have sponsored events called Roundhouse Revivals, in which pro wrestling, vendors, food and live music are used to call attention to the efforts to save the Coliseum, and the at the second of these on November 4, Memphis’ superb reggae band the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy performed, followed by rap godfather Al Kapone and his hype man Tune C, who were unexpectedly backed by the CCDE as well. Although the weather was chilly, a decent crowd came out to enjoy the music and food, as well as pro wrestling demonstrations by Jerry “The King” Lawler himself, and of course the obligatory visits from political candidates.
This has been a relatively rough year for Memphis, and yet one of the more uplifting things I have noticed has been the spreading of neighborhood-based outdoor artworks and murals. While this has been going on for several years, it has virtually exploded this summer. I was not pleased with the demolition of the historic W. C. Handy Theatre in Orange Mound, but it did cheer me to see the orange-and-white public art on the bricks that remain from the foundation at the site. The slogans emphasize pride in the Orange Mound community and its high school, Melrose. A brightly-colored mural a few blocks away carries a timely message: “Dreams Matter, We Matter”. Just north of the railroad tracks, the historic Beltline neighborhood is celebrated in a building-length mural on the wall of a grocery store. In Binghampton, the artwork near the basketball courts celebrates the game of basketball, for which The Hamp is known, being the neighborhood of Anfernee Hardaway. But perhaps the most striking effort was the long series of murals on the inside flood wall along Chelsea between McLean and Evergreen in the Evergreen neighborhood. The different panels celebrate many different aspects of hip-hop culture or Memphis culture, with the word “REVIVAL” prominently featured in the first one. It is an appropriate slogan for a city that is long overdue for renewal.
Back in the early 1970’s, Shelby County formed their own housing authority and built a housing project called Horton Gardens, at the dead-end of Horton Road near Northaven. In 2009, ignoring Federal laws and housing policy, they evicted the remaining residents and abandoned the complex altogether.
The internet is full of blogs that offer pictures of abandoned sites, buildings and whole towns. Much of it is intended to titillate the viewers. But I posted these pictures I took at Horton Gardens in the hopes that you who see this will get mad. I want you to get mad that in a city with as much of a homeless problem as Memphis, our elected officials saw fit to abandon this complex that probably could house a couple of hundred people. I want you to get mad that these sturdy, well-built apartments were allowed to rot and be burned by vandals. I want you to get mad at the complete waste of taxpayers’ money, which was used to build this complex in the hopes that it would offer a solution to very real housing problems in our community. I want you to get mad that funds were available for rehabilitation of these units, but that Shelby County chose to abandon them anyway, and misused the funds according to a government audit. I want you to get mad that they left the personal financial information of the former tenants strewn about the complex at one point. I want you to get mad that the complex has apparently been sold twice at auction since its abandonment, yet there has been no effort at rehabilitation or replacement. Yes, I want you to get mad, because unless you are mad, nothing in our community will ever change. Horton Gardens, as it is in 2015, is an example of everything that is wrong with Memphis and Shelby County. And it will never get any better until you are mad enough to vote the traditional leaders out and select new ones.
In Prichard, Alabama, where there never seems an end to bad news, the neighborhood called Alabama Village is frequently the subject of really bad news- shootings, murders, stabbings, arsons, as well as boarded-up houses and widespread abandonment. But a few years ago, a bold group of Christians called Light of the Village decided to move into a former crack house and try to bring hope to a place that often seems truly hopeless. On the video above, Light of the Village director John Eads discusses the origins and challenges of his organization’s ministry with Colton Bradford. Visit the Light of the Village website to learn more, donate, or volunteer to this most worthwhile goal.