Rarely do gentrifiers explicitly tell you their plans, but this flyer I picked up at the Trolley Stop in Memphis sets forth exactly what the Victorian Village Community Development Corporation wants to do with Morris Park. The urban park features two basketball courts currently and the best basketball in the city, but the Victorian Village folks claim that “families” are afraid to use the park due to “100” crimes that have occurred there in the last year. Their flyer calls for a “Greener, Cleaner, Safer” park, and at first glance, what could be wrong with that? But the problem is, the folks that like to hoop in Morris Park are mostly young Black men, and by “greener” Victorian Village Inc means getting rid of the basketball courts. To be such a storied town for basketball, Memphis has few public courts. The city removed most of them in the 1990’s after residents claimed that they attracted crime. Now, if the Victorian Village CDC is successful in their efforts, there will be no place for young people to play basketball in Downtown Memphis. While crime in parks is an issue that needs to be addressed, basketball doesn’t cause it and eliminating basketball will not prevent crime.
Neshoba County had a turbulent and violent history during the civil rights movement, but nowadays, thanks to the Choctaw Indians, the county is beginning to look more like Las Vegas, with elaborate casino hotels on both sides of Highway 16 as you approach Philadelphia. When I arrived at the town square, it was evident that there had been some kind of festival going on downtown, for there were cars everywhere, and even some motor homes set up. The new 424 Blues Cafe proved to be beautiful, and rather elaborate, with large central stairs heading up to a balcony overhead. Displays of records and memorabilia in the back pay homage to Otis Rush, the well-known Chicago bluesman who was born in Philadelphia. Every seat was taken, and the place was filled from top to bottom, but Jarekus Singleton had just gone on break when I came inside.
When he came back on stage with his band, I quickly saw what all the fuss was about. Singleton is a young and especially gifted guitar player, whose interests run from Hendrix to down-home Mississippi blues. What’s even more amazing is that he was a high-school basketball star before he decided to pursue his music career, and last year was named Blues Artist of the Year in Jackson. Singleton opened his second set with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, followed that up with Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, all skillfully and deftly played, but it was in the slow blues numbers that I was most impressed, for Singleton’s mastery of the electric guitar is rare in someone so young.
Singleton took another short break at 11:30, and after I met him briefly, I had to head out on the three-hour ride back to Memphis.