An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee

Charles W. McKinney (Editor) Aram Goudsouzian (Editor)
& 8 more


During the second half of the nineteenth century, Memphis, Tennessee, had the largest metropolitan population of African Americans in the Mid-South region and served as a political hub for civic organizations and grassroots movements. On April 4, 1968, the city found itself at the epicenter of the civil rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. Nevertheless, despite the many significant events that took place in the city and its citizens' many contributions to the black freedom struggle, Memphis has been largely overlooked by historians of the civil rights movement.

In An Unseen Light, eminent and rising scholars offer a multidisciplinary examination of Memphis's role in African American history during the twentieth century. Together, they investigate episodes such as the 1940 "Reign of Terror" when black Memphians experienced a prolonged campaign of harassment, mass arrests, and violence at the hands of police. They also examine topics including the relationship between the labor and civil rights movements, the fight for economic advancement in black communities, and the impact of music on the city's culture. Covering subjects as diverse as politics, sports, music, activism, and religion, An Unseen Light illuminates Memphis's place in the long history of the struggle for African American freedom.

Product Details

University Press of Kentucky
Publish Date
April 13, 2018
6.3 X 1.3 X 9.1 inches | 1.5 pounds

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About the Author

Aram Goudsouzian is professor and chair of the department of history at the University of Memphis. His books include Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, and Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear.

Charles W. McKinney Jr. is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. An expert on the history of grassroots struggles for civil rights, he is the author of Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina.


"Offering a panoramic view of how black Memphians responded to racial exclusion and state violence, the essays sketch a long black freedom movement beginning near the end of Reconstruction, with its reverberations extending into the 21st century." -- Public Books

"The collection did an excellent job in explaining the inner workings of Memphis, TN. The works highlighted the past actions, organizing and insurgency which created the dynamics of racism, classism, social, and political power seen in modern Memphis. I recommend this collection to those interested in the shaping of a large southern city. I also recommend to new and lifelong Memphians to provide a blueprint of the historical legacy of Memphis and how this legacy continues to impact the lives of African Americans." -- Tennessee Libraries

"Published fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis in 1968, this timely work provokes contemporary reflection on the ongoing freedom struggle. This edited volume is the first of its kind on the Memphis struggle." -- Journal of Southern History

"Collections of essays often lack focus and struggle to hold a theme. This is not the case with An Unseen Light. Both of the editors and most of the sixteen contributors have strong connections to Memphis and grasp its rather unique position at the crossroads of the Deep South and the mid-South, a place governed by a rural plantation mentality, even as it often promoted a cultural and commercial vitality. Each (essay) is carefully researched and directly tied to black struggles for freedom in the city." -- Journal of American History