Dr. Stephen Ash to Give Talk on the Memphis Massacre

Steve Ash PosterOn March 17 at 6 p.m. in the McCallum Ballroom, Bryan Campus Life Center at Rhodes College (reception at 5:30 p.m.), Dr. Stephen V. Ash will speak about his book A Massacre in Memphis. In May 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, the city of Memphis erupted in a three-day spasm of racial violence aimed at the recently-freed African Americans who lived there. More than 40  black men and women were murdered, many more injured, and all of the city’s black schools and churches and many homes destroyed by fire. It was the first large-scale racial massacre to erupt in the post-Civil War South, impacting subsequent federal policies and constitutional law.

Ash is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and has published many books relating to the dynamic, racial interplay in the Civil War and post-Civil War South. He takes special interest in Tennessee history.

His lecture at Rhodes, which is part of the college’s “Communities in Conversation” lecture series, will examine the origins of the Memphis riot, describe its horrific violence, assess its significance in American history, and especially its importance to Memphis as a city. This event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing.

Ash’s book gives a portrait of Memphis as a southern city in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. It was time when racial tensions were high and there was talk of the Emancipation Proclamation as an abomination by “Rebel Memphis” and their Irish supporters. Most whites resented the influx of blacks into the city and especially the presence of black federal troops and Yankees who had come to assist the recently freed slaves. By spring of 1866, tensions were high and riots and racially incited murder ensued. Congress eventually blamed them on “the intense hatred of the freed people by the city’s whites, especially the Irish – a hatred stoked by the Rebel newspapers.”

The Memphis Massacre is one of the best-documented episodes of American history in the nineteenth century. And yet it remains little known today, even by Memphians. This event is part of a semester long effort to commemorate the Memphis Massacre, headed up by University of Memphis historians Beverly Bond and Susan O’Donovan. They are working with a slew of community partners, including the National Park Service and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and Humanities Tennessee. The goal of this communal series of events is to shatter the silence about the Memphis Massacre and to mark this moment as a turning point in Memphis, Southern, and American history. Ash’s lecture will be an important occasion in this set of events.

Ash was awarded the UT Alexander Prize for Distinguished Research and Teaching in 2005, and the UT Chancellor’s Award for Research and Creative Achievement in 2004. Rhodes College is excited to have him deepen our understanding of the history of our city.

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Those with specific inquiries about Communities in Conversation or upcoming events can contact Dr. Jonathan Judaken, the Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities at Rhodes, at judakenj@rhodes.edu or (901) 843-3292.

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