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Memphis History

Memphis has a turbulent history but one that has played a significant part in America's civil rights and musical history.

Native American Indians lived along the Mississippi River for 10,000 years. The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish in the 1540s, followed by the French and English. There were skirmishes between the Indians and the settlers until Tennessee became a US territory in 1790, and then a state in 1796.

Although the land legally belonged to the Chickasaw Indians, the new settlers eventually took control. In 1818 the Chickasaws have up control of the northern territory, including the land that would become the city of Memphis.

From the outset, Memphis was an important location for trading and travel. Before the Civil War, the economy was cotton-based underpinned by West Africans slaves. The cotton trade tied Memphis to northern industry so many did not wish to secede to the Union at the start of the Civil War. However, the plantation owners were dependent on slave labour, so loyalties were split.

Eventually, Memphis became part of Union territory. After the war, Black Memphians made socio-economic and political progress and black activism continued into the early 20th century. Robert Church founded the NAACP here in 1917. Despite segregation and poverty, Memphis prospered. By the mid-20th century, Memphis became one of the busiest cities in the South, with the world's largest cotton market.

In 1968 Memphis became the focus for the civil rights struggle. Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King to Memphis was subsequently killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Riots ensued across America.

In 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum was opened at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated.

Did you know?
• Memphis was the world's largest mule market in the 1950s. 
• The city was named after the ancient capital of Egypt on the Nile river.
• Elvis Presley's Memphis home, Graceland, is the most visited private home in the US after the White House.

A digital image at https://illuminoto.com

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Featured Hotels


Gen X Inn

A chic boutique-style hotel in Midtown from the Best Western chain. It's in the heart of the Medical District and less than one block from Interstate 240, ideally located on the trolley line and only two miles from downtown. The décor in the 32 rooms is knowingly contemporary, and the king and queen rooms feature complimentary WiFi and cable TV. Breakfast is included and there's an exercise room and free parking.

Sleep Inn Downtown at Court Square

A none-more-central Downtown location is the draw for this higher-end motel, squatting between Court Square and the mighty Mississippi. There are 116 rooms on six floors, the place is clean and modern, and includes breakfast and free WiFi. Book early for big events.

The Hotel Napoleon

In the renovated five-storey Winchester building, this 58-room boutique hotel was opened in September 2016. Designed with modern touches to complement the historic 1902 building, it's conveniently located Downtown near to several Memphis sights including Beale Street. Part of the Ascend Hotel Collection, it includes the farm-to-table Luna Restaurant and bathrooms that feature wooden sliding barn doors and luxurious marble showers.

Crowne Plaza Memphis Downtown

On the doorstep of barbecue and blues in central Memphis, this 230-room hotel has a free shuttle service covering a three-mile radius, dropping guests off at Beale Street, Sun Studio, the National Civil Rights Museum and other nearby sights. Fees include breakfast, WiFi, parking and use of the patio and outdoor pool.

Doubletree Hotel Memphis Downtown

Centrally located just three blocks from legendary Beale Street, this hotel has 280 rooms with free WiFi. Guests can burn off BBQ calories at the fitness centre and outdoor pool and make an exception for the signature chocolate chip cookie - a welcoming gift on arrival.

The Guest House at Graceland

As part of the Graceland complex's renovations, the somewhat dated Heartbreak Hotel closed down but instead Elvis fans can opt for more luxurious accommodation with a stay at The Guest House, opened in October 2016. This 450-room resort was built to feel like an extension of the Graceland mansion itself with a touch of Southern colonial style to its exterior and décor and furnishings inspired by retro opulence from Presley's homes in Memphis and Palm Springs.