Main Street Journal: On the River: Memphis Pushes Back

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The following article is taken from the (month, year) issue of the Main Street Journal. Click “Subscribe Online” above to start your subscription.

Memphis Pushes Back
By: Jonathan Lindberg

In the last of the great Memphis weeklies, the Memphis Business Journal runs a wonderful section featuring personal profiles of local business leaders. The profile usually boasts the token picture of the-professional-at-work. It poses such questions as “what is the most influential book you’ve read” and “what’s your favorite status symbol” or “what’s your favorite restaurant.” However, the question that always piques my interest reads as follows, “What do you dislike most about Memphis.” The answer is almost always steady and predictable. Nine-times-out-of-ten the answer reads something like this, “The poor self-image that Memphians have of Memphis.”

Now this should come as little surprise. For years, Memphis was considered the jewel of the South. Memphis won multiple awards for its beauty and our archives have the clippings to prove it. However, somewhere along the way, violent crime, urban decay, race-baiting, corruption and failing education have led this city on a slow, downward spiral.

The perception of the place we live has taken a series of serious hits.

And yet something refreshing has happened of late. When it comes to our poor self image, Memphis is beginning to push back.

The capstone to this movement is recent. On March 1, 2010, Mayor AC Wharton released an open letter in response to Forbes Magazine, which had ranked Memphis as the third most miserable city to live. It was not the first time that Memphis had appeared on the list; however, it was the first time that Memphis, spurred by our leadership, pushed back.

In his open letter to Steve Forbes, Editor of Forbes Magazine, Mayor Wharton was both eloquent and forceful, penning for the first-time-in-a-long-time a stirring defense of Memphis and the reasons Memphians have to be proud of their city. “We know who we are,” Wharton wrote, “and miserable is not part of that definition.”

If you have not read the letter in its entirety online, it is definitely worth the time.

Memphians rallied around the letter. Spirit of Memphis (, one of a number of pro-Memphis organizations that have been formed over the past year, erected a billboard that read, “We don’t read Forbes.” Newspapers, magazines and websites reprinted the letter in its entirety. It was the talk of the town. It was a very good moment for Memphis.

It is a moment that has been building.

The election of AC Wharton has really become a watershed moment for the self-image of Memphis. Many who lived and worked in Memphis over the past eighteen years often felt like the city, at times, was held hostage to race-baiting, backroom deals and political games.
The election of Wharton allowed the city to let out a collective sigh of relief. For the first time in a long time, citizens could stick up their heads and recognize all the great things Memphis has to offer.

This is not to ignore the many problems and difficult challenges we face. However, for too long, Memphis had lost its will to fight.

Now, there is a different feel in the air. It is a movement with purpose; it is a mood that is growing. Memphis is starting to push back – and that my friends, is a very good thing.

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