Last weekend, Toyota hosted a very unique and unforgettable driving tour of the rich African American history in Memphis. We were in a caravan of Toyota vehicles rolling through streets of the Bluff City set out to explore Memphis through historical eyes. Toyota sponsors the STEEPED IN HISTORY initiative, a year-round celebration of Black History. I’m totally here for bringing awareness to the contributions of African-Americans 365 days a year, not just in February, so when I got the opportunity to participate in this tour, I replied with the quickness! I am a native Memphian so I was familiar with some of the history before the tour, but I had NO IDEA how much I DID NOT KNOW. How many places I had not been. Little gems and details of which I wasn’t aware. I mean, how often do you pass plaques or historic markers and monuments without reading them? It was so refreshing to see/hear the impact that Black people have made in the city I call home. The history lessons we received won’t be taught in schools and aren’t found in any book. And because of that, I’ll forever be grateful for this experience.
We made several very interesting stops on the tour, starting with breakfast at Jim & Samella’s House, a family owned eatery in the heart of South Memphis. The recipes have been handed down through generations, and this good, home cooked breakfast was the fuel we needed to get our day started. Breakfast came complete with red Kool-Aid! You can’t get more Memphis than that!!!
After breakfast we set out on our journey in our 8 car Camry caravan, ready to take on the city. The 2018 models were all hybrid, and this was my first experience with a hybrid vehicle. Y’all!!! This car feels like I’m driving on a cloud. The ride is very smooth and it’s freakishly quiet, but don’t let that fool you, it handled these Memphis streets like a champ. The bluetooth capabilities were the perfect way to ride along with our fabulous tour guide, Ms. Queen of A TOUR OF POSSIBILITIES. This tour would not have been the same without her voice giving every stop a life of its own.With full bellies and our agenda, we turned on our flashers and #letsgoplaces was our motto for the day! We were ready to be #steepedinhistory!
Here are some highlights of the tour:
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
Yes, there was an Underground Railroad stop right here in Memphis. You’ve got to go and immerse yourself in this museum. Find out the history of the magnificent magnolia trees and exactly why they were planted as well as all of the intricate symbols that made up the Underground Railroad/Freedom Trails. For more information, including tour hours and admission prices, check out The Slave Haven website HERE.
African American Museum Foundation
This hidden gem is nestled in the New Chicago area of Memphis, and the word amazing just isn’t adequate enough to describe this place. Our tour guide, Dr. Carnita Atwater, was excellent in her descriptions of the artifacts she has collected. There are over 400,000 in the museum, and we only got a glimpse. The massive collection includes items ranging from music and civil rights icons to slavery and authentic African relics. This was a total body experience. Every sense was activated. And I loved every minute. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children. In order to experience this for yourself, contact Dr. Atwater at 901.502.2326 or via email Atwaterc4@aol.com.
The birthplace of the I AM A MAN movement, this historic site is now home to a commemorative monument dedicated to the reason why Dr. King came to Memphis in the first place. This installation is a must see from words emblazoned on the words themselves to the timeline laid out on the walkway. This is free and open to public for viewing anytime.
Withers Collection Museum & Gallery
We the pleasure of perusing the works of the amazing photojournalist, Dr. Ernest C. Withers. The Withers collection opened it’s doors in 2011 with an archive of 1.8 million images. He documented key parts of the Civil Rights Movement, legendary musicians, and the Negro Baseball League. All images are in black and white and curated to take you on a journey through time. Located on World Famous Beale Street, these photos are truly a site to take in. Head to the Withers Collection website for more information on tour times and admission prices.
Memphis Slim Collaboratory
Collab + Laboratory = Collaboratory. The home of musician Memphis Slim has been completely transformed and is now a place where future musicians can gather, rehearse, learn, and create legendary music. Located in the heart of the Soulsville Music District, the hope is to create a culture that supports the collaboration of music and art. There are memberships and a number of programs available to facilitate the music making process while revitalizing the community. Visit the MemphisSlimHouse for more information.
The recording home of Al Green, Ann Peeples, and OV Wright, Royal Studios is where artists from all over come for “the Memphis sound”. Willie Mitchell’s daughters will take you on a tour filled with laughs, southern hospitality, and classic tales of life around this studio. Royal Studios has been around for 60 years and is still being used today. The Wall of Fame boasts signatures from artists such as John Mayer, Melissa Ethridge, and Drake. For more information, check out the ROYAL STUDIOS WEBSITE.
Knowledge Quest | Green Leaf Learning Farm
Our last stop, the Green Leaf Learning Farm, was something out of a movie, and it ended our tour on the most wonderful note. When we pulled up to this microfarm in the heart of South Memphis, it’s like the heavens opened up and the angels started singing. Founded in 2010, the farm was started to meet the nutritional needs of the community. Now with USDA certified organic status, the Kingdom Quest/Green Leaf students and community members learn how to grow food in ways that build community and increase the neighborhood’s access to healthy foods. Students become healthy eaters, entrepreneurs, and advocates for social and environmental justice. YOU HAVE GOT TO VISIT THIS BEAUTIFUL OASIS OF FRESHNESS! This is not something one would normally see in that section of the city, which is what makes it SO AMAZING!!! You can also purchase produce weekly on site or at local farmers markets. See the Green Leaf-Knowledge Quest website for more information and to see the farmers market schedule. We’ve go to support this awesome endeavor!
Our final stop was the HM Dessert Lounge with Chef Fran Mosley where we noshed on delectable dinner and dessert options. We all were full and overflowing with information from each stop on the tour, but we managed to sum up our #SteepedinHistory experience and enjoyed a beautiful spoken word performance. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
You know I have to slide in WHAT I WORE : I thought I would represent my HBCU on this tour with a Dillard University tee + black jeans (Gap). It was gloomy and rainy so I added the sleeveless trench (Target), and Fedora (Banana Republic) to cover the tresses. I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking so my Stuart Weitzman slip ons & Rebecca Minkoff Crossbody were a must. Tour chic!
According to Q, if you want a total sensory experience where your eyes, ears, taste buds, and mind are awakened by history, the stops on this tour are a MUST SEE! You can visit them individually or roll with Ms. Queen on A Tour of Possibilities. Either way, I’m sure you’ll experience Memphis in a way that you never have before!
Cheers to Toyota for sponsoring such an unforgettable experience!