In 1890, real estate developer Elzey E. Meacham purchased 64 acres of the Deaderick Plantation, a 5,000-acre homestead located just outside the Memphis city limits. Knowing that Meecham had plans to use the land for a subdivision, Mattie Deaderick—whose prominent family had ties to politics and cotton—requested that he not sell any of the land to Negroes. Disregarding her request, Meacham established Orange Mound, Tennessee—named for the orange osage shrubs that grew on the plantation. It was the first planned subdivision for African Americans in the United States. In 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama in conjunction with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation designated Orange Mound as a Preserve America Community. This designation recognizes communities that are using their heritage to build a better future while creating more vibrant and desirable places to live, work and visit. In a letter to the residents of Orange Mound, the First Lady described the community as a “treasured place in the American story” and applauded its “commitment to our Nation’s heritage.” For over 125 years, Orange Mound has been a treasured place for thousands of individuals who share a collective vision for safeguarding the history and heritage of this great community.
Blues City Cultural Center has had a sustained presence in Orange Mound since 2015. It includes numerous arts-based projects driven by the expressed interest, concerns and needs of residents. To incorporate diverse voices, residents are engaged in all aspects of the projects from planning to implementation.
BCCC staged two original theatrical productions—ORANGE MOUND: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE and THE BEGINNINGS OF ORANGE MOUND—to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of Orange Mound. The cast, comprised of residents and professional artists, recounted the rich cultural heritage of the community. Audiences could relate to the familiar stories of Park Avenue when it was known as “The Drag,” live entertainment at the Handy Theater, and the Golden Wildcats of Melrose High School. Like an unfolding history lesson, the productions led audiences on a reminiscent journey of the triumphs, challenges and possibilities for a vibrant community.
BCCC partnered with Melrose High School to provide Creative Arts Workshops engaging students in various art forms with professional artists. The workshops led to the creation of the student theatre guild, one of the first steps toward rebuilding youth performing arts at the school.
The THIS IS ORANGE MOUND NEIGHBORHOOD TOUR is an authentic relatable tour that recognizes significant historical and cultural assets identified by elders and youth. Professional artists (singers, writers, musicians and actors) work with youth to craft scenarios that combine elder reflections with historical documentation. In contrast to traditional guided and walking tours, THIS IS ORANGE MOUND features living interpretations by youth at designated sites. During the first tour in 2016, spectators (tour participants) witnessed a baptismal at the former Orange Mound swimming pool, the purchase of a plot of land by Alice Speggins (one of the first Orange Mound residents), and the grieving of Mattie Parks Deaderick at the family cemetery.
THIS IS ORANGE MOUND received widespread media coverage and was named “one of the five best things that happened in Memphis” by WMC-TV. This project has the potential to position Orange Mound as a tourist destination for both visitors and locals who want to experience alternative Memphis attractions and sample the culture of a historic neighborhood. Presently, it is the only arts-based, resident-driven neighborhood tour in the Memphis area and can serve as a model for integrating arts and tourism. As the interest in heritage tourism increases, THIS IS ORANGE MOUND aligns with national trends to draw visitors to local neighborhoods to stimulate economic and community growth.
If You Can’t Stand the Heat uses the arts as a platform to engage age 50+ Orange Mound residents in health issues that disproportionately impact African American populations. These health disparities generally include hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol and heart disease. In addition to addressing these issues, the role of caregivers was integrated throughout the project since family members or friends frequently provide supportive care for 50+ populations. Staged as a live soap opera with neighborhood residents as leading characters, If You Can’t Stand the Heat featured TalkBack discussions facilitated by healthcare and other quality-of-life professionals.
In collaboration with Melrose High School, Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation, and other community partners, BCCC opened the
ORANGE MOUND HERITAGE CENTER. Based at Melrose High School, it houses artifacts and material culture relative to Orange Mound and residents who lived, worked and played in the neighborhood. Interpretive programming for the Heritage Center is organized around five broad themes: family life, business, religion, education and community. The center opening which coincided with MLK50 featured a production depicting the Orange Mound response to the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.