MTSU and the University of Memphis will co-sponsor the first-ever public recognition of the historic impact of the 1866 rampage against African Americans in Memphis.
‘Memories of a Massacre: Memphis in 1866, a Symposium Exploring Slavery, Emancipation and Reconstruction’ will take place May 20 and 21 in the University Center Theatre, 499 University St., at the University of Memphis.
The event, which is free and open to the public, is funded in part by the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. MTSU’s Teaching with Primary Sources program, which is administered by the university’s Center for Historic Preservation, joined with the University of Memphis to lead a teacher workshop on the subject in April.
Historians will examine a three-day siege of murder, rape and property destruction that devastated Black Memphians from May 1 through May 3, 1866. White police officers, firefighters and businessmen initially targeted former Union soldiers. However, the violence expanded to encompass schools, churches and houses.
By the time federal military authorities declared martial law, at least 46 Blacks and two Whites were dead, between 70 and 80 others were wounded and at least five Black women had been raped. More than 100 people had been robbed. Four churches, 12 schools and 91 houses had been burned.
“As part of our mission to tell the whole story of the Civil War in Tennessee, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area recognizes the Memphis massacre as one of the defining moments in Civil War history that changed the course of Reconstruction policy and the shape of American citizenship,” said Lydia Simpson, programs manager for the CHP.
The massacre and similar violence a few months later in New Orleans convinced the U.S. Congress to enact tougher measures to protect civil rights in the aftermath of the Civil War.
“Reconstruction has gotten short shrift over the years, and this symposium will help to rectify that,” said Antoinette van Zelm, assistant director of the CHP.
Robert K. Sutton, chief historian of the National Park Service, will deliver the keynote address at 6 pm, Friday, May 20. Topics to be discussed over the two-day period include ‘Urban Battlegrounds: Reconstruction in Southern Cities’; ‘Race, Gender and Sexual Violence During the Memphis Massacre’; and ‘From Emancipation to Abolition in Civil War Tennessee.’