During the tailgating day at the Southern Heritage Classic, the ultimate destination is the official City of Memphis party sponsored by Coors Memphis, on what is roughly the site of the old Tim McCarver Stadium. The event is technically private and invitation only, but fortunately, I have never had a problem getting inside. There’s always an appearance by Mayor A. C. Wharton, and other politicians, and a big stage with plenty of live blues and soul. This year the featured band was John Williams and the A440 Band, playing lots of great blues and soul for the crowd, and Coors had set up some really cool portable bars complete with upstairs lounges with couches and an awesome view of the entire Fairgrounds. Great food, drink, music and weather- you couldn’t ask for a better time.
Saturday was the day the Ku Klux Klan was coming to Memphis to protest the city’s decision to rename three Confederate-named parks including one that honored the founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest. Because the last Klan rally in Memphis back in 1998 had ended in tear gas, vandalism and violence, a number of community groups organized an alternative event called Heart of Memphis at Tiger Lane near the Liberty Bowl, with food trucks, live music, events for the kids and workshops. Unfortunately, the same rains that disrupted the Klan rally downtown also made a washout of the Heart of Memphis event. The music stage had to be moved indoors, and attendance was hindered by the weather. But workshops were held, including the Peoples’ Conference on Race and Equality sponsored by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, which had my friend Dr. Coby Smith as a panelist, and Mayor Wharton briefly spoke. My friends from the I Am Memphis clothing line were also there, as were the good folks from Rock N Dough Pizza.
Recently the Commercial-Appeal printed an editorial about soon-to-be-implemented changes that are coming to downtown parking. The newspaper gleefully reported as progress that Memphis will replace the old-fashioned coin parking meters with sophisticated newfangled meters that can accept credit cards. Of course, the quid pro quo for this, said the editorial, is that there will be no more free parking downtown after 5:30 PM, nor on weekends, nor on holidays. So this “progress” so hailed by the CA is actually a tremendous step backwards for the city of Memphis.
How quickly our leaders have forgotten that the cost of parking is one of the things that helped kill downtown Memphis in the first place. Shoppers no longer saw the point of driving downtown and paying for parking to shop at Goldsmith’s or Lowenstein’s when you could go do that at one of the new suburban shopping areas, where parking was provided for free.
The other thing that killed downtown Memphis was that people didn’t feel safe, particularly after several spates of downtown rioting in 1968-1969 and again in 1971. And on that point we have Friday’s incident where students at the All-West Tennessee Band and Orchestra Convention at the Cannon Center were beaten and robbed outside of Huey’s directly across from the Peabody Hotel. So Mayor Wharton and other city leaders are essentially saying, “Come downtown and spend money, but we’re going to sock it to you for parking 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you might get robbed to boot.” Who likes that proposition? Anyone?