African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890-1980

By Thompson, H. Paul, Jr. | The Journal of Southern History, February 2015 | Go to article overview

African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890-1980


Thompson, H. Paul, Jr., The Journal of Southern History


African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890-1980. By Charles Williams. (Lanham, Md., and other cities: Lexington Books, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 163. $80.00, ISBN 978-0-7391-7585-9.)

African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890-1980 is an ethnographic study of a community that author Charles Williams says was the first planned black community to grow out of the Garden Cities movement at the turn of the twentieth century. Orange Mound was built on a portion of a former 5,000-acre plantation in Shelby County, Tennessee. A real estate broker bought the land and began selling off small plots to African Americans in the early 1890s. By the early 1900s the community was well established, and for decades under Jim Crow it had an exceptionally high level of home ownership and "stability" relative to other African American communities in the area (p. 24). Williams uses case studies to analyze patterns of family life and traces the history of the community's prominent churches and schools, all while placing his study within the context of local race relations. He ends with a brief discussion of the socioeconomic breakdown of the Orange Mound community since the 1960s. To some extent Orange Mound seems to be the "poster child" community for observing the transition from a gemeinschaft to a gesellschaft. The last chapter excepted, the book is more descriptive and detailed than prescriptive or analytical.

Reflecting Williams's years of leadership in such initiatives as the Tennessee Alcohol and Drug Prevention Outcomes Longitudinal Evaluation, his book seeks to influence public policy. …

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