I know sanctification is conferred to those patiently tolerating and quietly mourning the brokenness in our neighborhood of Orange Mound. Our lamentable is a heart-torn message to city dwellers, movers and shakers who are young and impassioned to open and step through our door that welcomes all to Orange Mound. That door has had a “Please come on in” sign for more than 10 years.
Surely there awaits a gold medal for the one who wins the war on our poverty, but the battle is far from over, and the casualties are multiplying. The poor in our neighborhood have a story to tell. Whether they are able to be heard or not depends largely on those of us who have a voice, applauding their patience and fortitude and grieving when their rescue is delayed. We care enough to write about it.
A nostalgic after-glow of the former golden years abounds in our neighborhood. Local media reports are taking notice and heralding its Centennial Celebration Year. Commercial Appeal reporter Phillip Jackson recently noted “Memphis hit 200 — but Orange Mound reached a milestone, too.”
Our centennial should rightly be celebrated. The river of our history runs wide and deep throughout the city of Memphis. Few communities in our area have the same significant past. In the mid to late 1800s, the Deadrick family were some of the area’s wealthiest slave owners. Their wealth was acquired as a result of the labor of African men and women on Chickasaw Indian land. After the abolition of slavery, the Deadrick family lost their wealth, but kept their ignorance. One family member’s will stipulated the land was “never to be sold to negros."
In spite of their request, a developer purchased the land and sold it to former slaves. The community then known as Orange Mound thanks to the Osage trees located throughout was founded on May 2, 1890 flourished for many years as a community built by former slaves which also provided sanctuary during segregation.
The golden years were short-lived however. By the 1960s, the intact community began to show signs of fraying. Bussing and the desegregation of public parks in 1965 brought a death knell to the community. Government-enforced civil rights brought decades of white flight and left a web of violence and poverty in its wake. It has remained even today.
The current injustices and pain experienced by the Orange Mound community’s 14,500 residents do not impede the search for joy and hope in the mega narrative, but amid the daily grind, there is a feeling of permanent powerlessness. The “good years” are a myth to most who live here now. There is not a disinterest in returning the neighborhood to health and prosperity, but there isn’t a clear plan as to how to accomplish it. Disillusionment prevails. One of the obstacles faced is the loss of those who have worked to transform the community into something more than a forgotten area avoided by many.
Tyler Glover, the beloved unofficial Mayor of Orange Mound, recently passed away on September 21. He was celebrated at a memorial service by those who testified to his love of life and his community. He witnessed the neighborhood’s highs and lows for 89 years. He touched many people through prayer, mentoring, and financial support. He was loyal, and he never moved out of Orange Mound. In that regard, he was one of the few.
The Southern Heritage Classic held on the second Saturday of September since 1990 is reunion central and a mecca for over 65,000 people who carry Orange Mound roots. The parade route is lined with Melrose Alums and former Orange Mound residents. I wish they would come back and stay for a while, organize, and dream about stability, even invest in our future. As the prophet Jeremiah told the Hebrew captives in Babylon, “Quit dreaming of the old days. Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat their produce.”
Amarty Sen, a development economist from India, writes that “human well-being is best understood by what people are and do, such as being literate, healthy, economically active, and participating in the life of their community and feeling safe.”
We are made in the image of God, and all human beings have the right to function in his way. We are to develop, not just survive. Most Orange Mound residents are on life support, having too little, but not quite too late. God’s business card includes in bold print: I come to save and meet needs.
There are at least 6 organizations here who are invested in the well-being of our neighbors: Red Zone, OMOM, Christ Community Health, the Gilberts, Neighborhood Christian Center, and My Cup of Tea. All are here to stay. We have begun a prayer time every Tuesday night to attack the strongholds of despair and to tear away the debris of depression and pray for revival.
The same Commercial Appeal article reported a week after the Southern Heritage parade bands danced through our streets that “Orange Mound real estate values have again deflated, and the uninhabitable houses have multiplied.” At least 10 percent of our houses are condemned and abandoned. Property values have dropped 26 percent over the past decade, and 70 percent of the vacant lots are owned by the local government and sit undeveloped in the Shelby County Land Bank.
What is the city going to do with us? We are on the way or in the way to every place the city is promoting, but our neighborhood does not enjoy the fruits of nearby development and business. Now is the time to buy a house or a lot and move in if you want to be part of the rejuvenation of our community.