Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Amy Pace

When the judge cut the eight of them loose, and all five hundred of them negroes stood up at once, I thought for sure either I was gonna die, or I’d have blood on my hands before I got out of that courtroom.

I ain’t never heard no other noise like that. The shuffle of shoes against wooden floors, the stomp of heels hitting the ground, the drawing in of breath, all in unison.

I swear to God, the fat bailiff next to me half pissed himself.

I wasn’t much better. I tried to remember what that girl I’d had a month back looked like naked, and just why she’d agreed to the tryst in the first place. I figured if I was going to have a last thought, I’d make it a fun one.

But, as the eight Klansmen filed out to the whoops and hollers of their kind, them negroes just stood silent, watching, like they were saying more with their mute witness than any lawyer had said over the course of this whole case.

Then, they all filed out together, not saying anyone to anything, just movin’ on.

I think that’s when I remembered to breathe again.

Memphis Note
In 1874 a group of Klu Klux Klansmen lynched 16 blacks in Gibson County, Tennessee. Their trial was held here in Memphis. The judge freed all eight of the men that were charged, while five hundred blacks watched on, knowing that this country’s courts were not for them.

Scout Anglin

“I made most of my money running this saloon. And most of that came from the gambling, so you’ll have to take my word when I say a thing or two about taking a chance.”

Edward Shaw finished pouring the whiskey and slid the tumbler across to the Republican Party official across from him. It was too early for the bar to be open, and this wasn’t a friendly meeting.

“They say if you’re poor, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Shaw poured himself one, and immediately downed it. “I say if you’re rich, you can afford to take a bigger risk than the people with nothing, and that’s what I aim to do.”

The party official pushed the proffered drink away with a frown.

“You still won’t beat him, Shaw. Not even if you got every negro in the whole state to vote for you.”

Shaw took the drink for himself, hissing through his teeth at the alcohol burn.

“You’re probably right. But you’ll lose, and you’ll spend the rest of the term stinging from that loss. And you know what? I bet next time the you won’t take us for granted and nominate a racist son of a bitch.”

Memphis Note
Edward Shaw was a freed slave that became one of Memphis’s first advocates of racial equality. He made his money running a saloon and gambling hall, but used that money to start a newspaper and become a lawyer. He was the city’s first black wharf master, and a key ally of the local Republican Party. Which he proved to them in an election by splitting the vote against them because they ran an avowed racist.

Sherry Whitten

The baby was crying.

Her mother, blearily, sleepily, padded over to the child’s cradle. The floor was cold against her feet and a winter rain beat down outside, making the air wet and clammy. She pulled the crying infant up into her arms for a feeding.

In the bed behind them, her husband stirred.

“Go back to sleep, dear.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll just get an early start.” He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and hissed as they made contact with the cold wood.

Pulling on his trousers, he stepped over to the window of their second floor apartment and looked out into the street below. “Quite a torrent. Sky’s black as pitch.”

From the roof, an irregular thumping noise echoed down. His wife looked at him quizzically. “Hail? At this time of year? How peculiar.” She said.

“Yes, indeed.” He responded, squinting out the window. The rain was starting to slack, but there was something strange happening down in the street.

The water was slithering.

“Darling,” he said. “This is most unusual, but it appears to have been raining snakes.”

“Strange.” Shrugged his wife, nonplussed. “I always thought the apocalypse would come on a Wednesday.”

Memphis Note
On December 15th of 1877, it was reported by the Memphis Appeal to have, in fact, rained snakes on the unsuspected populace of Vance Avenue. They were a mix of black and brown, most being less than a foot long. Apparently a few were captured and brought in to the newspaper as evidence. Thankfully, this was not a sign of the apocalypse. Or maybe it was, and it is just a very, very slow one.

Caroline Mitchell

From the top deck of the steamship, he could see the lights of Memphis slipping past in the night. Foot steps sounded on planks behind him and he turned to see his hobbled father coming toward him.

“Are the celebrations not to your liking?”

“Seems a poor time to be whimsical. We’re a plague ship trapped on a river, traveling upstream, hoping against hope that the fever gives out before the rations do.”

Less than a month before, they’d departed New Orleans bound for Cairo, Illinois. A few of the crew had taken ill, then seemingly over night, half the passengers developed a fever. No port would take them, fearing yellow fever, and they were left to drift in the muddy waters of the Mississippi.

“An engagement is always a time for whimsy and happiness, boy.” His father lightly scolded. “And if we’re going to die of fever, why not with a smile? Besides, they made cake.” His father patted him on the shoulder, and headed back to the party.

He lingered a while longer on the upper deck, watching the lights of the city disappear in the black. Then he hurried down, hoping there was still some cake left.

Memphis Note
This is a different take on what actually happened to the barge tug
John D. Porter during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. Instead of a steamship full of people, a barge was refused entry into any port until yellow fever had burned its way through the small crew, killing three of them. For two months, they wandered the Mississippi, kept alive by a pair of doctors that came to their aid with supplies and medical care.

Caroline Mitchell

From his bedroom window, Nathan Bedford Forrest could prop himself up on his daybed and see the Mississippi River. But, the diabetes had all but ruined his vision. The river, the trees and the sky all blended together into one smear of grey.

The door to his bedroom creaked opened, and he called out, asking who was there.

“Me, father.”

“Ah, son. Come closer, so I can see you.” Nathan waved his hands, urging his son closer.

When he came into focus, Nathan looked upon him with melancholy.

“I can’t feel my toes and I piss myself whenever I sleep. I am not long for this world. You have been my greatest success. Before I pass, I must to warn you against my greatest failure.”

Nathan struggled, pushing himself more upright.

“If you let your passions inflame you, they will burn away any reason from your head. For too many years, I was like Odysseus, tricked into become a prisoner of passion by Calypso. Men died and I allowed more hate to flow into the world.”

He grasped his son’s arm, as firmly as he could.

“Never let your passions give rise to other’s misery. Don’t join me in Hell.”

Memphis Note
Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader that became one of the Confederate Army’s most successful commanders. With no formal military training, Forrest revolutionized the ways calvary were used in war. But, he was also a ruthless killer, charged with the massacare of hundreds during a battle at Fort Pillow. After the war, he would make a home in Memphis, but, with the slave trade gone, he had to start over again. Disenfranchised in the post-war South, he was recruited by the Klu Klux Klan, joining and leading them until their methods became too violent for even him. Toward the end of his life, Forrest recanted his pro-slavery views, and instead adopted a vision of harmony between the races. To this day, he remains a controversial figure.