Memphis, Tennessee

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Memphis, Tennessee
City flag City seal
City nickname: "The River City" or "The Bluff City"

Location in the state of Tennessee
County Shelby County, Tennessee
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

763.4 km² (294.8 mi²)
723.4 km² (279.3 mi²)
40.0 km² (15.4 mi²) 5.24%
 - Total (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density

Time zone Eastern: UTC–6
Location 35° 7′ 3″ N, 89° 58′ 16″ W
Mayor W. W. Herenton
City website

Memphis is a city in Shelby County, Tennessee, of which it is the county seat. As of 2005, the city had a population of 671,929 within the city limits, making it the largest city in the state of Tennessee, United States. The greater Memphis metropolitan area had a population of 1,195,977. This makes Memphis the second largest metropolitan area in Tennessee, surpassed only by metropolitan Nashville. Memphis is on the Lower Chickasaw Bluff above the Mississippi River, at the mouth of the Wolf River.

Memphis is the home of founders and establishers of various American music genres, including Blues, Gospel, Rock n' Roll, and "sharecropper" country music (in contrast to the "rhinestone" country sound of Nashville). Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and B. B. King were all getting their starts in Memphis in the 1950s. They are respectively dubbed the "King" of Country, Rock n' Roll, and Blues. Other famous musicians who either grew up or got their starts in the Memphis area include Aretha Franklin, Carl Perkins, John Lee Hooker, Justin Timberlake, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Al Green, Muddy Waters, Tina Turner, Roy Orbison, Willie Mae Ford Smith, Sam Cooke, Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Redding, The Blackwood Brothers, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas,Three 6 Mafia, Eightball & MJG, and "Father of the Blues" W.C. Handy. Memphis is also the home of famous radio stations and recording studios such as WDIA (which was the first American radio station programmed by African-Americans), Stax Records (e.g. Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, and Otis Redding), Hi Records (e.g. Al Green and Bill Black), and Sun Studios.



Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley.
Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley.

Memphis was settled by the Chickasaw tribe. The Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, is believed to have visited what is now the Memphis area. The French built Fort Prudhomme in the vicinity. The city was founded in 1819 and incorporated as a city in 1826. At the conclusion of the Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862 during the American Civil War, Union forces captured Memphis from Confederate control. A yellow fever epidemic in 1870 greatly reduced the population for many years thereafter. In 1897, Memphis' pyramid-shaped pavilion was a conspicuous part of the Tennessee Centennial exposition. From the 1910s to the 1950s, Memphis was a hotbed of machine politics under the direction of E. H. "Boss" Crump. The city was at the center of civil rights issues during the 1960's, notably as the location of a sanitation workers' strike. Memphis is also known as the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel. Racial tension remains in Memphis as a result of its uneasy history in this regard.

Geography and climate

The Mud Island tram on Front St in downtown Memphis
The Mud Island tram on Front St in downtown Memphis

Memphis is located at 35°7'3" North, 89°58'16" West (35.117365, -89.971068)1. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 763.4 km² (294.8 mi²). 723.4 km² (279.3 mi²) of it is land and 40.0 km² (15.4 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 5.24% water.

Major Memphis parks include Tom Lee Park, Audubon Park, Overton Park and the Memphis Botanic Garden.

The Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the 42nd largest in the United States, has a 2000 population of 1,205,204, and includes the Tennessee counties of Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette, as well as the Mississippi counties of DeSoto, Marshall, Tate, and Tunica, and the Arkansas county of Crittenden.


Memphis has a mid-latitude, moist continental climate, with four distinct seasons. There are cold winters and hot summers. Spring and autumn can be varied and unpredictable with severe weather, such as thunderstorms and strong winds. Summers are very humid due to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico, even though the temperature rarely gets very high. This makes it feel hotter than it is. Winters, by contrast, can be very cold with temperatures below freezing occurring fairly regularly. Average annual snowfall is 5.7 inches (14.4 cm). There is plenty of rain to keep the region green. Memphis has sun for approximately 64% of the year. The highest recorded temperature was 108.0°F (42.2°C) on July 13, 1980. The lowest recorded temperature was -13.0°F (-25.0°C) on December 24, 1963.


The city of Memphis is located in southwestern Tennessee and sits on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River. Interstate 40 enters the city from the northeast, and loops above the central part of the city, exiting across the Mississippi River and travelling to the west. Interstate 55 approaches the city from the south and connects with I-240, which completes the loop around central Memphis with I-40. U.S. 78 and U.S. 385 leave the city traveling to the southeast.

Memphis has many distinct neighborhoods, including Annesdale Park, Annesdale Snowden, Central Gardens, Chickasaw Gardens, Cooper-Young, Cordova, Downtown, East Memphis, Evergreen, Frayser, Germantown, Harbor Town, High Point Terrace, Idlewild, Lenox, Medical District, Midtown, Mud Island, Orange Mound, Raleigh, South Bluffs, South Memphis, Southside, Uptown, Victorian Village, and Whitehaven.

People and culture


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 650,100 people, 250,721 households, and 158,455 families residing in the city. The population density is 898.6/km² (2,327.4/mi²). There are 271,552 housing units at an average density of 375.4/km² (972.2/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 61.41% African American, 34.41% White, 1.46% Asian, 0.19% Native American, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.45% from other races, and 1.04% from two or more races. 2.97% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 250,721 households out of which 31.3% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.1% are married couples living together, 23.8% have a female householder with no husband present, and 36.8% are non-families. 30.5% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.9% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.52 and the average family size is 3.18.

In the city the population is spread out with 27.9% under the age of 18, 10.8% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 19.7% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 32 years. For every 100 females there are 89.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 84.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $32,285, and the median income for a family is $37,767. Males have a median income of $31,236 versus $25,183 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,838. 20.6% of the population and 17.2% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 30.1% of those under the age of 18 and 15.4% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Annual cultural events and fairs

The Mid-South Fair comes to the city every fall, and every May there is Memphis in May. Each year, the city honors a foreign country, and each weekend hosts a special event, including the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest and the Beale Street Music Festival. Also part of Memphis in May is the FedEx St. Jude Classic, a PGA Tour golf tournament. Carnival Memphis (formerly known as the Memphis Cotton Carnival), is a series of parties and festivities staged every year by the Carnival Memphis Association and its member krewes (similar to that of Mardi Gras) during the early summer. Carnival salutes various aspects of Memphis and its industries, and is reigned over by the current year's secretly selected King & Queen of Carnival.


The major daily newspaper in Memphis is The Commercial Appeal. The Daily News and the Memphis Business Journal also serve the area as daily newspapers. Several alternative and weekly papers are also published in Memphis, including the Memphis Flyer (alternative newsweekly), the Shelby Sun-Times (East Memphis and eastern Shelby County), the Tri-State Defender (an African-American-oriented newspaper), and La Prensa Latina (a Hispanic newspaper).

The Memphis metropolitan area is served by a wide variety of local television stations, and is the forty-fourth largest designated market area (DMA) in the U.S. with 657,670 homes (0.597% of the total U.S.). The major network television affiliates are WMC 5 (NBC), WPTY 24 (ABC), WREG 3 (CBS), WHBQ 13 (FOX), WLMT 30 (UPN), and WPTY 24 (WB). The area is also served by two PBS stations: WKNO 10 and WLJT 11.

Museums and art collections

Several museums of interest are located in Memphis, including the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park, founded in 1916, serves as the region's major art museum. A smaller art museum, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens focuses on impressionism and has several works by Monet, Degas and Renoir. The Children's Museum of Memphis features many interactive exhibits, including a simulated grocery store, a wood skyscraper maze, and full-scale models of a fire truck and an airplane fuselage.

Owing to the city's musical heritage, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is home to a broad collection of artifacts, photographs, exhibits, commentary, and music. Along with the legendary Stax Sound, the museum also spotlights the music of Muscle Shoals, Motown, Hi and Atlantic.

The [National Ornamental Metal Museum] is the only museum in North America dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of fine metalwork. The site is situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and includes historic buildings, a working blacksmith shop and foundry, and a sculpture garden. Every October, the Museum hosts an annual Repair Days Weekend, during which the public can get broken metal items fixed and observe skilled metalsmiths at work.

Other museums in the area include the Fire Museum, the Memphis Museum Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, and the Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium.

Performing arts

The Memphis area is home to many of West Tennessee's larger performing arts organizations, such as the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, which performs at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts downtown. Ballet Memphis is the region's only major ballet company and performs at the Orpheum Theatre. Opera Memphis, the region's opera company, performs at the Clark Opera Memphis Center in East Memphis. Other major theatres in the city include Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, Theatre Memphis, and Theatre Works.

A month long festival, Memphis in May, is held each year to host the city's largest events like the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony.

Points of interest

Tourists come from all over the world to see Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Sun studios was where Elvis first recorded "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Other famous musicians who got their start at Sun include Johnny Cash, Rufus Thomas, Charlie Rich, Howlin' Wolf, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Blues fans can head down to Beale Street, where a young B.B. King used to play his guitar, and occasionally still appears at a club bearing his name, which is partly owned by him.

There is Libertyland Amusement Park and the adjacent Liberty Bowl and Memphis Children's Museum, Mud Island, Detour Memphis - an art and performing space, Lichterman Nature Center, the Pink Palace Museum, The Pyramid, The Memphis Zoo, the Memphis Queen riverboat.

NASCAR's Memphis Motorsports Park is nearby.


Memphis is home to several professional sports teams. The Memphis Grizzlies are the only major league, professional sports team in the city. They are a basketball team in the NBA, and play at FedExForum downtown. Several minor league teams also call Memphis home, including the Memphis Redbirds of the Pacific Coast League, a minor league baseball farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds play at AutoZone Park.

The Memphis RiverKings are a professional hockey team of the Central Hockey League. The Memphis Xplorers are an arena football team that play in the Af2 league. Both the RiverKings and Xplorers play at DeSoto Civic Center in nearby DeSoto County, Mississippi. Memphis is also home to the Memphis Blues, a professional Rugby team. Memphis is considered a pro wrestling history ground. The sport's greatest name to come out of the city is Jerry "The King" Lawler. Many greats started out their careers in Memphis; among these names include Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Ric Flair.

Tallest Buildings

Name Stories Height (in feet)
100 North Main 37 430
Commerce Square 31 396
Sterick Building 31 365
Clark Tower 32 365
Morgan Keegan Tower 23 341


The city’s central location has lead to much of its business development. Located on the Mississippi River and intersected by two Interstate highways and seven major U.S. highways, Memphis is ideally located for commerce among the transportation and shipping industry. The city is also home to the world's busiest cargo airport, in terms of tonnage, which serves as the primary hub for FedEx shipping. Due to its location, more major metro areas can be reached overnight from Memphis than any other city in the central U.S. Memphis has also developed as a major manufacturing center of textiles, heating equipment, pianos, and automobile and truck parts. Memphis Light, Gas and Water ("MLG&W") is also one of the largest municipal utitilites in the United States.

Memphis is home to a growing number of nationally and internationally known corporations, including approximately 150 businesses from 22 countries. This includes the corporate headquarters of two major Fortune 500 companies, including FedEx Corporation and AutoZone Incorporated. A third company, International Paper, recently announced on August 16, 2005, that it will be relocating its global headquarters from Stamford, Connecticut. Other corporations with a major presence in the area include Back Yard Burgers, Belz Enterprises, Buckeye Technologies, First Tennessee Bank, Guardsmark, Hohenberg Bros. Co., Harrah's, Hilton, ServiceMaster, and Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc.. Northwest Airlines also operates a major hub at Memphis International Airport, with daily nonstop flights to Amsterdam.

The entertainment and film industry has also developed in recent years in the city. Several major motion pictures have been filmed in Memphis in recent years, including Mystery Train (1989), Great Balls of Fire! (1989), Memphis Belle (1990), The Firm (1993), A Family Thing (1996), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), Cast Away (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Hustle & Flow (2005), Walk the Line (2005), and Forty Shades Of Blue (2005).

The city appeared in the top eight of the 50 best major metro areas in the U.S. for starting and growing a business in 2000, according to Inc. magazine. Southern Business and Development magazine ranked Memphis as one of the most successful models for economic development in the south, also recognized the city as one of the top ten markets over the past decade. In October 2002, Ebony Magazine has cited Memphis as a city for its outstanding African-American leadership. Memphis also had the highest rate of high technology start-up operations over the last three years among the nation’s 60 largest metro areas, according to Brandow Company research.



Since 1966, Memphis has been governed by the "weak mayor" form of mayor-council government. The new city charter provided for the election of a mayor and thirteen council members, six elected at large from throughout the city and seven elected from geographic districts. In 1995, the council adopted a new district plan which changed council positions to all districts. This plan provides for nine districts, seven with one representative each and two districts with three representatives each.

The current mayor of the city of Memphis is Dr. W. W. Herenton, a formidable and controversial local political figure. Dr. Herenton is currently serving his fourth consecutive term as Mayor. He was elected for the first time in 1991, when he became Memphis' first black mayor. Prior to his election, Dr. Herenton served for 12 years as the superintendent of Memphis City Schools.

In recent years, there has been discussion of the potential of a merger of county and city government of Shelby County and City of Memphis into a metropolitan government, similar to that in Nashville.

Memphis politics are very racially polarized. Most whites have supported the Republican Party since the 1960s, while most blacks have remained loyal to the Democratic Party. A major influence in Memphis' black politics is the Ford family of funeral directors, whose political prominence dates to the Crump era. The best-known member of this family is Harold Ford, Sr., who represented most of Memphis in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1997. His brother, John, was a state senator for 30 years and is currently at the center of the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

Most of Memphis is located in the majority-black 9th District, currently represented by Democrat Harold Ford, Jr., the current Democratic frontrunner for the Senate seat of Bill Frist. Much of eastern Memphis is in the 7th District, represented by Republican Marsha Blackburn.


St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is a world class medical research facility in Memphis.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is a world class medical research facility in Memphis.

The city is served by Memphis City Schools. Several colleges and universities are also located in the city, including the University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State University), Rhodes College, Le Moyne-Owen College, and Christian Brothers University. Some smaller specialty colleges are also located in Memphis, including Harding University Graduate School of Religion, Memphis College of Art, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The major community college is Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Memphis is also home to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a world class medical research facility. 1996 Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty conducts research at this facility. There are also several other major medical centers in the city, including the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Southern College of Optometry, and Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences.


Interstate highways I-40, its spur highway I-240 and I-55 are the main freeways in the Memphis area. The interstates of I-40 and I-55 (along with rail lines) cross the Mississippi at Memphis into the state of Arkansas. The future interstates of I-22 and I-69 are also planned to converge into the Memphis area.

A large volume of railroad freight traffic moves through Memphis, thanks to two Mississippi River railroad crossings and the convergence of east-west rail routes with north-south routes. Memphis had two major rail passenger stations, Memphis Union Station, razed in 1968, and Memphis Central Station, which has been renovated and serves Amtrak's City of New Orleans route between Chicago and New Orleans.

Public transportation in the Memphis area is provided by the Memphis Area Transit Authority, which provides the area with buses and a downtown trolley system that is also in the process of expanding into a regional system.

Memphis is served by Memphis International Airport.


Name Nickname Length (in feet) Date Opened
Frisco 12 May, 1892
Harahan 14 July, 1916
Memphis & Arkansas "Old Bridge" 17 December, 1949
Hernando De Soto "New Bridge"; "M Bridge" 3.3 miles long 2 August, 1973

See also

Sister cities

Memphis has two sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International, Inc. (SCI): Kanifing (Gambia) and Kaolack (Senegal).

External links

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