A People's History
At the heart of Memphis lies Overton Park, a 342-acre public space that contains the world-class Memphis Zoo, an old-growth forest, the Memphis College of Art, an amphitheater, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, among other beloved amenities. Founded in 1901, the park has been at the center of both celebration and controversy. Performers like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash have dazzled audiences there, while local children have long enjoyed its playgrounds and runners its jogging trails. During the civil rights era, desegregating the park became a major goal of local activists, and the park’s Greensward was the scene of protests against the Vietnam War. Late in the 1960s and throughout the 1970s, when the proposed route of Interstate 40 threatened the park, concerned citizens banded together to fight the plan—a struggle that reached the Supreme Court and eventually saved the park for future generations.
This delightfully informative book, filled with historic photos, offers a history of the park from the perspective of those who lived it. Brooks Lamb interviewed nearly a score of Memphians—from civil rights activist Johnnie Turner to U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, from artist Martha Kelly to retired zookeepers Kathy Fay and Richard Meek—to learn what the park has meant to them and to discover the transformations they have witnessed. The stories they tell reveal a dynamic place that remains, despite changes and challenges, a people’s park and, in the words of one resident, “the heartbeat of Memphis.”
Brooks Lamb is currently the conservation projects manager for rural lands at The Land Trust for Tennessee. A graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis and a 2016 Truman Scholar, he wrote Overton Park with the assistance of the Bonner Scholarship and a fellowship from the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies.