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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Community Called Orange Mound - Memphis, TN

A Community Called Orange Mound, premiering Monday, February 4 at 9:00 p.m. on WKNO/Channel 10, is the story of a southeast Memphis neighborhood with a surprising legacy. The broadcast of the 60-minute documentary is sponsored by The New Olivet Baptist Church; Fred L. Davis Insurance Agency; and Tim Thompson, author of The Locker Room.

Established on the grounds of the former Deaderick plantation, Orange Mound was one of the first communities in the United States to be built entirely by and for African Americans. The self-contained community that emerged attracted not only laborers and domestic workers, but also doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and teachers, all of whom were proud to call Orange Mound home.

"One of the closest-knit groups in Memphis, the residents of Orange Mound are still intensely loyal to the neighborhood that has been home to many families for generations," said producer Jay Killingsworth. "And they all say the same thing: even though they can live elsewhere and have had opportunities to do so, Orange Mound is home and that is where they intend to stay."

O-Mound mural

Orange Mound, a neighborhood located in southeast Memphis, Tennessee, was the first African-American neighborhood in the United States to be built by African-Americans.
Built on the grounds of the former Deaderick plantation, the Orange Mound subdivision was developed for African-Americans in the 1890's to provide affordable land and residences for the less wealthy.
Drugs and crime infected the neighborhood in the 1980's and 1990's. In the first decade of the 21st century, revitalization efforts were started and show positive effects.
Orange Mound is bounded by Semmes St. to the east and by Kimball Avenue to the south. The Southern Avenue/IC Railroad tracks on the north separate it from the Midtown and University Districts, while Lamar Avenue on the southwest and the CN Railroad tracks (visible at Park Av. & Lamar) on the west both separate it from South Memphis and the East Parkway District.

Deaderick plantation - 1800's

Orange Mound stands on the site of the former John Deaderick plantation. Between 1825 and 1830, Deaderick (whose family donated the land in Nashville on which the Tennessee State Capitol was built) purchased 5,000 acres (20 km²) of land (from Airways to Semmes) and built a stately house there (at what is now the east side of Airways, between Carnes and Spottswood). In 1890, a developer named Elzey Eugene Meachem purchased land from the Deaderick family and began developing a subdivision for African-Americans, selling lots for less than $100. In the 1890s, a typical Orange Mound house was a small, narrow "shotgun"-style house. A tradition says the name comes from mock-orange trees or shrubs on the grounds of the old homeplace. 

Vibrant black community - 1970's:

In the 1970's, Orange Mound was billed as "the largest concentration of blacks in the United States except for Harlem in New York City." The neighborhood provided a refuge for blacks moving to the city for the first time from rural areas. Although the streets of the early Orange Mound were unpaved, it was a vibrant community in which a mix of residences, businesses, churches, and cultural centers flourished. During the era of desegregation, Orange Mound entered a period of decline as younger residents began to move away.

Drugs and crime - 1980's-1990's:

Built on strong families, preachers, churches, and civic pride, this was a huge community of black homeowners in the 1940-50's. [cit needed] Drugs and alcohol had been an issue for many years, as they are in any concentration of poverty, but in the 1980's, the use of crack cocaine began separating families, generating violence, ravaging the community with crime, and breaking homes. Drug use devastated poor and middle-class families. The community role models shifted away from teachers, preachers, and doctors to drug dealers and gang members. Orange Mound was listed in 1994 as the # 1 area for murders, burglaries, and rapes in Memphis. Since 1994, Orange Mound has improved considerably as crime has moved south & east.

Revitalization - 2000's:

In the first decade of the 21st century, Orange Mound has been the focus of a variety of revitalization efforts. One such effort, the Orange Mound Collaborative, funded by a Ford Foundation grant, stresses "education through empowerment." The Orange Mound Collaborative's projects include an Early Childhood Institute, and an oral history project in which researchers conduct videotaped interviews with Orange Mound's older residents.

S.M.A.R.T. (2003):

In 2003, Orange Mound was named one of 21 areas in Memphis that are the focus of the S.M.A.R.T. Revitalization Plan ("Servicing the Metropolitan Area through the Redevelopment of Targeted neighborhoods"), a public-private partnership to create vibrant neighborhoods in declining areas.

Progress (2004):

In a 2004, editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Robert Lipscomb, director of Memphis's Housing and Community Development division, wrote that much progress has been made in revitalizing Orange Mound, through a combination of code enforcement, tenant education programs, and neighborhood cleanup efforts.

2009, 2010:

In the Fall of 2009, Melrose High School opened its stadium with new state of the art technology, new field, bleachers, and park. This was only a minor point of a changing community. In recent years crime has gone down nearly 10%. Alumni of the high school are taking it upon themselves to become more involved in the lives of the upcoming generation in order to insure a brighter future.

Orange Mound Community Garden:

A group called the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center helped neighborhood residents to create the Orange Mound Community Garden. Organizers of the garden project hope the project will help beautify the community, provide a source of nutritious food, teach leadership skills, and encourage self-reliance.



Churches in Orange Mound, and throughout Memphis, have played a critical role in developing community leaders and fostering stability. Particularly important has been Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, which has been at the corner of David and Carnes Streets since 1926, and Mt Pisgah CME Church on the corner of Park Avenue and Marchaneil. This church played a role in the American Civil Rights Movement by assisting activists jailed for their activities in support of racial equality.


Orange Mound hosts a growing underground rap scene as well as national hip-hop stars. The hit rap duo 8 Ball & MJG (Premro Smith and Marlon Jermain Goodwin) grew up in Orange Mound. They met at Ridgeway High in East Memphis where many Orange Mound children were educated from the early 1970's to the early 1990's. 


Orange Mound is the title and setting of a novel written by author Jay Fingers, who grew up in the neighborhood. The novel was recently deemed a "Memphis Book for Summer Reading" by the Memphis Flyer. 


Melrose High School and Dunbar Elementary School are located in Orange Mound and serve as a sources of pride and focal points for the community. Every Friday during football season the community comes together to cheer on the Golden Wildcats at Melrose Stadium. Melrose has a great football program.

Key To Orange Mound

Tyler Glover, who operates Tyler's Place restaurant at 2481 Park Avenue, has been elected the "Mayor of Orange Mound," and his restaurant the official Orange Mound "city hall." During the first term of Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton, Glover presented Herenton with an orange "key to Orange Mound." Glover's words convey the love that Orange Mound's long-term residents feel for Orange Mound: "This is the greatest community in the world.... It is the greatest community because I know everybody here and I love working on committees and making this a better place in which to live. I don't want to live any other place than Orange Mound. I have had numerous opportunities to move some place else, but there is no other place in the world I want to live, but Orange Mound, Tenn." In 2007 during Glover incompacity, Orange Mound elected Melrose Veteran and Hall of famer Jason Smith as Mayor.

Online Community Newsletter:

On October 6, 2011, a member of the Orange Mound community launched a website for former and current residents of the community, and others, to follow community events, share community-related information, and enlighten each other about the history, events, and vitality of Orange Mound.