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Notable Black Memphians By Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Chapter :  Introduction
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Notable Black Memphians

Their Lives Are a Testament

Making a Way Out of No Way: 1820 to 1860

The early history of Memphis is inscribed in the lives of its people—Chickasaws who spread throughout Mississippi and West Tennessee, European descendants who moved from Virginia and the Carolinas to the banks of the Mississippi River, and African Americans who migrated to the city from small farms and cotton plantations in the Mid-South. Memphis was built on the labor of African Americans and on land that was taken from Native Americans. The three city founders were slave owners: John Overton had fifty slaves and a 2,300-acre cotton plantation; James Winchester’s slaves worked in his cotton gin and ship-building plant, and Andrew Jackson bought and sold slaves to work on his large plantation.