’The Memphis on the Red beats them all by a mile’: Recognizing the people who helped shape the City of Memphis

Updated: Jul. 19, 2019 at 11:02 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Texas (KFDA) - “There’s a Memphis on the Mississippi, there’s a Memphis on the Nile, but the Memphis on the Red beats them all by a mile.”

That was a Memphis Texas slogan in 1910 that they put out nationwide to bring people to the town.

Memphis was established as a side line of the Fort Worth and Denver railroad in the late 1880′s.

“Around 1910, there were about 5,000 people in Memphis, Texas,” said John R. “Buddy” Ballew, who runs the Memphis on the Red Facebook page. “In 1910 to 1920, right in that area, there were over 30,000 people in the county. Memphis was a big business magnet. People came from about 30 miles in every direction on Saturday night to buy their groceries, to watch a movie picture show, to dance to Bob Wills music on the square.”

Ballew says many came to the city aspiring to be farmers.

“They had a mule and a plow,” said Ballew. “And they’d go to work and they had 40 acres, and they could actually make a living. They’d had some pigs, they’d have a couple milk cows, they grow corn in their backyard, and they could actually survive on what they made out there.”

The Masonic Lodge was also a big part of the community, vetting newcomers who wanted to move to Memphis.

In time, the city became very diverse. Ballew says the first black people were brought in from Fort Worth in 1920 right after World War I to help in the cotton fields.

“They brought in 87 black people with two Texas Rangers,” said Ballew. “And they came in and they picked cotton for that season. The next year, it was about 160, and in 1922, we established a black community in Memphis called Morningside.”

Morningside is a community 79-year-old Woody Richardson remembers well, especially being a part of Memphis’ first black football team.

“Back in 1957, Coach [George] Berry, recently out of college, ad was over at the Morningside,” said Richardson. “That was before we integrated. The conversation of trying to get a football team, well we played basketball. And so he provided u with some football suits by going up to the high school uptown here.”

“And we started playing football, oh boy, was we so enthused about doing that. The only problem was we didn’t have nobody else to play. Because at that time, the schools, other than Memphis, didn’t have no football teams for us, you know, that was on that side of town at that time.”

They did get to play a team from Amarillo, a game he’ll never forget.

“They beat us 66 to 6, but I did run the first touchdown,” said Richardson.

Richardson is also the first black person to serve on the Memphis City Council.

He also serves the community on the board of the EDC.

More importantly, he serves the main upstairs, as he’s been a preacher in the city since 1979.

“It’s a blessing too,” said Richardson. “And I hope I’ve been some benefit for the citizens in Memphis, especially in our world, and whenever I heard about a need or something like that, I tried to check into it. You know, I try to make a practice of that. Maybe that’s why they’ve been voting for me, and I thank y’all.”

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