Hidden History: Orange Mound Built on Site of Former Plantation in 1890

Local News

MEMPHIS, TN. – It’s known as the first community in America founded and developed exclusively for African Americans. 

It was built on the site of a former plantation in 1890. 

The historic Orange Mound Neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, still lives up to that designation today. 

It was a location where black doctors, lawyers, and business owners could own their own homes. 

The community has thrived, although it was tested during the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. several miles away.

“There was so much love, so much innovation, So much community, unity here..” says Mary Jones-Mitchell, Orange Mound Historian.

If you want to learn about Orange Mound’s History, you need to find native, Mary Jones-Mitchell.

“Melrose is the only school in the nation that had two Olympic winners in 1988 in Seoul, Korea,” says Mary Jones-Mitchell.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland recently named Jones-Mitchell “The Historian of Orange Mound.”

She speaks with pride when talking about her community. 

“Two years ago this was an abandoned liquor store,” says Mary Jones-Mitchell.

Some of Jones-Mitchell’s most painful memories however, are about the neighborhood during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Her classmate, Lillian Bumpus, fought for equality.

“We boycotted the department stores. We were not supposed to even receive the daily newspaper,” Orange Mound native Lillian Jean Bumpus said. “‘The commercial appeal’ did not give blacks titles, Negroes as we were called then.”

Throughout its history, black families in Orange Mound have turned to the church for refuge.

“That’s why it’s so important for the church to be holistic in its outreach in addition to partnering with the schools,” says Senior Pastor Reverend Willie Ward Jr., Mt. Pisgah CME Church. 

At times Orange Mound was known for the wrong reasons. 

Dozens of Orange Mound natives are working hard to restore pride in the historic neighborhood. 

“I think faith, family and fortitude will be the mantra for the next 50 years, or the next 150 years for this great place,” says Mary Jones-Mitchell.

There are a number of notable athletes who came from orange Mound, all graduates of Melrose High School. Barry Wilburn played for the Washington Redskins when they won Superbowl 21. Cedrick Wilson played for the Pittsburg Steelers when they won Superbowl 40. And Andre Lott-Washington won a National Championship with the University of Tennessee Volunteers in 1998. 

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