Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Beale Street In Memphis, Tennessee—A Lousy Place


One of the worst places I’ve been is Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street is famous for its place in the history of blues music.

I wrote a poem about how bad it was.

Below the poem is a recent column from The Nation about Beale Street and the fight over stewardship of the Lorraine Motel. The article was titled “Thieves of Black History” and was written by Gary Younge. 

The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King was shot and killed. 

The poem is called Memphis, Tennessee  

Martin Luther King

Was shot in 1968

In Memphis, Tennessee. 

Poor black kids

Turn handstands for handouts

From drunken Southern whites

On Beale Street. (Birthplace of the Blues!)


In Memphis, Tennessee 

They can dress up everyone

In an Elvis costume

Have a big Elvis parade

Down Historic Beale Street

On the Fourth of July,

In Memphis, Tennessee. 

And have all the Elvises

Water-ski on the Mississippi

Under a canopy

Of Red, White & Blue Fireworks. 

It won’t matter. 

Because Martin Luther King was shot

In Memphis, Tennessee

And it did not teach

That city

A damn thing.

Below are the first two paragraphs from the The Nation commentary. Here is the link to the full article. It is well worth the time to read the full piece. (The above photo is of the Lorraine Motel balcony where Rev. King was shot.) 

If Beale Street could talk, as James Baldwin famously imagined, then somewhere around Memphis’s South Fourth Street it would let out an agonizing cry. Facing east, the garish neon commodification of the blues stands behind you–a trap for tourists and an insult to the legacy of a great musical tradition. Commerce here is thriving from a culture it doesn’t respect. Ahead sprawls the desolation and poverty of the communities that gave blues its meaning and to whom the blues returned some dignity.

A block away at the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center, around eighty people have gathered to prevent the pilfering of yet more local black heritage. Twenty years ago, the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated, was turned into a National Civil Rights Museum. The chair of the executive committee of its board, J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III, is a wealthy white Republican. Charged with safeguarding a vital landmark in the nation’s racial history, Hyde lobbied for the defeat of Harold Ford Jr.’s bid for the vacant Senate seat from Tennessee in what was widely regarded as the most racist campaign of the 2006 election. While Hyde has been representing the civil rights museum, the company he founded, AutoZone, has been embroiled in a longstanding EEOC racial discrimination lawsuit.

Please click here for a post on Martin Luther King’s great Sermon Unfulfilled Dreams.

December 13, 2007 - Posted by | History, Martin & Malcolm, Music | , , , , , ,


  1. I stay away from the south it gived me the creeps.

    Comment by Bill Brady | December 13, 2007

  2. The poem was ok…but….there are no drunk white southern people on Beale St..
    They are from Germany,Japan,England….even Texas.
    and don’t forget….Memphis didn’t shoot Mr. King….a stupid person did.

    Comment by Jonathan Shepherd | December 14, 2007

  3. Mr. Shepherd—I don’t doubt they are from all over.

    Memphis did not shoot King, but he was there because of lousy conditions for city workers. The city bears some degree of guilt.

    Thanks for both comments.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | December 14, 2007

  4. And it did not teach

    That city

    A damn thing.
    think that is a interesting way to end the poem, I think King would be shocked to see where the country and the culture has gone and his death has been forgotten for the most part by his own people. You cant teach a city just the people that live there. Cincinnati has a lot to learn its people that is, But the curve is almost as great as the hatred that the races have for one another here. I really dont understand either side of this city and I never have. You can go to any other city in america and you will not feel and see the deep hatred and sadness and hopelessness as the people that live in Cincinnati Ohio. Its truely broken.

    Comment by bill brady | December 15, 2007

  5. Cincinnati is broken and has been so for some time.

    Though it is not unique.

    King would be sad to see how things went in America. Though I don’t know that he would have been surprised.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | December 15, 2007

  6. I am Australian, i visited memphis in 2006 and i understand his poem fully. it’s not the white’s its about its how a man got shot (king) for the city to stay as disqusting as what it is now. i went to see sights and history not people begging in the streets, how the black community can hold king so close to their hearts and not take in any words he says……….well.

    Comment by Simone Gough | March 4, 2008

  7. Sorry, but deciding you hate my entire city because you didn’t like Beale Street would be like hating Vegas because the show at the Sands sucked.

    And yes— Those whites on Beale Street are generally the tourists. The locals generally stay away unless there’s an actual event going on. It’s a shame you didn’t see it Saturday night. The day after the fortieth anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the University of Memphis advanced from the Final Four to the NCAA championship game, and the street party on Beale knew no color at all. I went there to watch a band play, but enjoyed the street party outside so much that I ended up missing most of the show.

    Also, I’ll have to check with people that go down there more than I do, but I have not even seen the kids turning flips for handouts on Beale in many years. In fact, the last time I saw them was probably sometime around when you were here.

    I’m not a huge Beale Street fan. I live in the city, so I feel no need to do the tourist thing fifteen minutes from my own house. I do love the Civil Rights Museum, and I love the arts district that is within walking distance of Beale. Perhaps next time you visit the city, rather than hanging out where the drunken tourists are, you could actually take in some of the culture.

    But you have judged the entire city of Memphis on the basis of a stretch of land that Memphians rarely actually go to. You do recognize the irony in that, do you not? Please do try not to judge Memphis’s food on the basis of a corn dog you had down there.

    And Simone, short of the Rudy Giuliani/NYC approach (Bus the panhandlers to another part of the city and say you’ve solved the panhandling problem), what would you recommend? I doubt you could find a major city without panhandling.

    Comment by Rick Maynard | April 11, 2008

  8. Mr.Maynard–My post is much more about Beale Street than Memphis as a whole.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 11, 2008

  9. Mr. Aquino,

    Next time you come to town, if you’ll let me know, I will make sure you see the good side of the city.

    Comment by Rick Maynard | April 12, 2008

  10. All right–I hope I get that chance. Thank you.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 12, 2008

  11. Beale Street sucks…OK, fine. I’ll give you that. But I’ve lived all over the world and always come back to Memphis. Too bad for you you didn’t know where to go or how to find out. Cindie O.

    Comment by Cindie O | September 30, 2008

  12. Cindie–I bet Memphis has a long history of poverty and poor race relations and that these problems go on today.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | September 30, 2008

  13. I was born in the Baptist Hospital in Memphis. I am proud to say I’m from there, however, the crime is awful and racism is the reason. If we stayed on our side of town and they stayed on their’s, I feel things would be better. Like it was in the 60’s. Racism is here to stay

    Comment by Eenah Moon | September 28, 2010

  14. Walking Beale street in summer.
    Big Ass Beer in my hand.
    One place in the US where you can feel free.
    Everyone having a good time.
    Everyone. Black and White.
    Except one from a town where Kennedy last drew breath.
    And all he can see in people’s smiles is conspiracy and hypocracy.
    Like a puritan preacher in old New England
    Watching pagan maypole dancing
    He judges them guilty.
    Guilty of fun.
    But the blues isn’t about guilt or depression.
    It’s about loss and survival.
    Nobody wanted you to be sad forever.
    Not even Martin Luther King.

    Comment by grob | October 27, 2011

  15. yes, I know Dallas is where Kennedy got shot. I was going to use state in stead of town, but town sounded better.

    Comment by grob | October 27, 2011

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