The neighborhood of Orange Mound in Southeast Memphis, Tennessee has a rich history that largely goes ignored due to high crime in the region in the ’80’s and ’90’s. What some might not know is that Orange Mound was one of the first communities established for African-Americans in the country and was once a thriving hub of commerce and prominence.
Orange Mound, which rests on the former Deadrick Plantation grounds, gets its name from the local mock orange fruit that grew in the region. According to some accounts, it was the first community in the Deep South where Black people were allowed to build and own homes. For many Blacks in the south, Orange Mound was the city they would travel to in order to make better lives for themselves after living in rural environs.
Orange Mound, like many early towns in the south, was slow to develop at the tail end of the 19th Century. However, the neighborhood began to attract doctors, lawyers and businessmen who used the neighborhood to establish their careers. Orange Mound can boast of several past residents who have found success in a variety of arenas. Former University of Memphis coach Larry Finch was a native, along with Olympic gold track athletes Shelia Nichols and Rochelle Stevens.
Award-winning pediatric orthopedic physician Dr. Alvin Crawford hails from Orange Mound, and was the first Black person to graduate from the University of Tennessee’s medical school. State congressman Harper Brewer, the first Black speaker pro tempore for the Tennessee House of Representatives, called Orange Mound home as well.
Despite Orange Mound’s infamous and still ongoing reputation as an area of blight and despair, efforts to revitalize the city are underway to reverse the city’s crumbling fortunes. Several Memphis-based organizations have pledged money and resources in support of turning things around in the neighborhood. The Orange Mound Community Garden is one of the hallmarks of those plans to beautify the historically rich area.