Memphis Fast Fiction Home

The ride to the airport had been the quietest one that she could ever remember. She tried turning on the radio only to have her husband flip it back off.

In the back, her daughter twisted her long, golden hair around her finger, and looked anywhere but at her father.

They were on the way to pick up her college boyfriend, he was coming to join them for the holidays.

It was only last night that she told them that he was black.

And it hadn’t gone over well with her husband. He’d said something inappropriate and narrow-minded, and their daughter had responded in kind.

“Don’t you call me racist!” He shouted at their daughter.

“Then don’t give me a reason to call you one.” She’d fired back, before storming into her room and slamming the door.

They hadn’t spoken since, and time was fast running out.

Her husband looked in the rear view mirror and cleared his throat. “Does he love you? Treat you right?”

“Dad, you raised me right.” She said, finally looking at him. “I wouldn’t be with him if he didn’t.”

That made him pause, then nod.

“Good. But he’s still sleeping on the couch.”

Memphis Note
It’s always a tricky thing living in a city like Memphis, a city where racial tension is felt by all, but buried just far enough under the surface so no one talks about it. And it can often surprise you when they’ll flare up. An educated man saying something stupid, a rich man being petty, a disapproving silence instead of a welcoming hello. Really, the only thing you can do is just make up for the idiots by being even more accepting of your fellow man.

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.

Rikki Boyce

In her arms, the kitten started to purr, oblivious to the human drama playing out around it. The teenage girl was holding it tight, hiding under her bed in the shack she shared with her fathers and brothers.

When the white men with torches and clubs came into the freedmen’s camp, her father told her to stay hidden until he returned, then took her brothers out to what men sometimes must do.

The angry shouts started shortly after and were quickly overtaken by the din of a riot. She’d lost all track of time since then. It could’ve been hours, or mere minutes.

It broken her heart to think of such violence coming to the peaceful, eclectic settlement hers and other freed slave families had built.

From outside the thin walls of the shack, she heard a man scream in pain, cutting through everything else. The girl was unable to tell if it belonged to some one she knew or not.

Then she noticed her kitten had stopped purring. 

It had fallen asleep. She petted it hard so it awoke and began to purr again.

The purring of that kitten was the only sound she could stand to hear now.

Memphis Note
Once Memphis was captured by the Union in 1862, the black population exploded as escaped slaves flocked to the city. They settled in contraband camps – renamed freedmen’s camps after the Emancipation Proclamation – and some joined the Union Army. However, this population growth caused friction with the white population of the city, which exploded into one of the worst race riots in US history in 1866, from which the city has never fully recovered.

Matt Farr

The yellow-white smoke of the tear gas drifts down the streets. Police in riot gear moved like dark specters through the clouds, the crowd scattering before them.

For a moment, I lock eyes with one of them. He’s as scared as we are.

Another volley of gas canisters pirouette through the sky, as if in slow motion. One hits a man with a megaphone next to me, knocking the glasses off his face.

It does nothing but instill him with more rage. He turns, shouting encouragements to the mob to retaliate on the police with anything they can get their hands on.

I move away from him, he’s turned from protestor to inciter. The police will not be kind to him.

In my head, I can still hear the voice of the Klan Grand Wizard from before, mocking the crowd as the police escorted him and his racist cadre to safety.

They never got a chance to start their protest.

All they needed to do was occupy a space, and their very presence turned us feral against each other.

Tensions rose, nerves frayed, individuality broke down, and the mob took over.

And the mob is a dangerous, dangerous fool.

Memphis Note
In 1998, the Klu Klux Klan scheduled a protest downtown. They went through the proper channels, and were protected by the Constitution, so the city had to let them. However, over 500 counter-protestors and curious onlookers showed up, turning a non-event into a mob scene. Things got out of hand, tear gas was used, and the situation turned into a full on riot. All without the KKK even getting started. They’d managed to enflame racial tensions and create a full-blown riot by just showing up.

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.