Memphis, Tennessee, the largest city in the state and the seat of Shelby County. It is situated on bluffs above the Mississippi River in the southwestern corner of the state.
Memphis is the chief center of commerce and industry between St. Louis and New Orleans and is the hub of a rich farming area, locally called the Mid-South. The nation's largest cotton and hardwood lumber markets are in Memphis. Among the chief manufactured goods are machinery and other iron and steel products, chemicals, foods, wood and paper products, furniture, and clothing. Memphis is regionally important for wholesaling, warehousing, and banking. Federal offices and military installations contribute much to the city's economy. There is also a large music recording industry. Memphis is served by major railways, Interstate highways, barge lines, and Memphis International Airport.
In downtown Memphis are the Civic Center, the cotton exchange, and Beale Street, made famous by W. C. Handy's “Beale Street Blues.” A statue of the composer is in Handy Park on Beale Street. Mud Island, in the Mississippi, is an entertainment complex with varied exhibits pertaining to the river. The 32-story stainless steel Pyramid arena and entertainment complex is also on the Mississippi. It is the home of the Memphis Grizzlies (professional basketball). Overton Park is the site of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, a zoo, and an aquarium. The Pink Palace (in full: the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium) features natural and cultural history exhibits and a planetarium. At the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the National Civil Rights Museum. The municipal botanical gardens are in Audubon Park. Graceland is the estate of Elvis Presley and site of his grave.
Memphis has a symphony orchestra, an opera, and a ballet. Annual events include the Memphis in May International Festival; the Mid-South Fair and Exposition, in autumn; and the Liberty Bowl post-season collegiate football game. Chucalissa, in the southwest, is an archeological restoration of an Indian village that existed about 900 to 1600 A.D.
Colleges and universities include the University of Memphis; Christian Brothers University; LeMoyne-Owen and Rhodes colleges; and the University of Tennessee at Memphis. The University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences is part of the Memphis Medical Center.
Memphis was possibly the site of De Soto's discovery of the Mississippi River (1541) and of La Salle's Fort Prudhomme (1682). The first white settlement was made in 1819 by a group that included Andrew Jackson and was named Memphis after the ancient Egyptian city. It prospered because of the cotton trade in the steamboat era. Memphis was chartered as a city in 1849.
During the Civil War, the city was attacked from the Mississippi River by a fleet of Union gunboats. It was captured in 1862 and held by Union forces for the remainder of the war. Deadly yellow fever epidemics in the 1870's brought mass exodus and financial ruin. Rapid recovery followed in the 1880's. A railway bridge across the Mississippi was opened in 1892. In 1910 Edward H. (“Boss”) Crump became mayor. His Democratic political machine, which also ruled the state for many years, was powerful until after he died in 1954. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while in Memphis in 1968.
In 1991, Memphis elected its first black mayor, Willie Herenton.