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Q&A with Lisa Lumb

Co-author of “Cooper-Young: A Community That Works”

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In 1977, two Cooper-Young residents — Peggy Jemison and Virginia Dunaway — were commissioned by the Metropolitan Interfaith Association (MIFA) to document the founding of their Midtown community up to the early 1970s.

At the time, the Cooper-Young neighborhood was in decline as more people moved out of the area in favor of suburbs to the east. According to Jemison and Dunaway's history, bankers considered older neighborhoods "high risk."

Today, the hundred-plus-year-old Cooper-Young neighborhood is widely lauded as one of the more successful Midtown historic districts. Under the direction of Memphis Heritage, writers Lisa Lumb and Jim Kovarik attempted to pick up where Jemison and Dunaway's history left off in their new neighborhood history, Cooper-Young: A Community That Works.

The book will be sold at the annual Cooper-Young Festival on Saturday, September 18th, and it's also available at Burke's Book Store. — by Bianca Phillips

Flyer: How long have you lived in Cooper-Young?

Lisa Lumb: Since 1988. At that time my husband and I had never even heard of Cooper-Young. We just wanted to live in Midtown. I remember a horrified acquaintance, upon hearing about our move, asked us why we were moving to the "urban frontier." We thought that was hilarious, but in a sense she was right. Cooper-Young was an early streetcar suburb of Memphis, so it has been on the edges of Memphis since its beginnings. And despite the fact that it is now a fairly respectable neighborhood, it's never lost that "edginess."

How long has this updated book on Cooper-Young's history been in the works?

Around 2001, Cooper-Young Community Association director Angela Strain approached June West at Memphis Heritage about updating the original Cooper-Young history. It's been more than 30 years since the original history was written, and it's truly astonishing to see all of the changes that have taken place in this community since that time.

What sort of research did the update require?

Everyone was generous in sharing their stories, photographs, and resources with us. I contacted over 50 people for our part of the book, including interviewing the original history authors, Peggy Jemison Bodine and Virginia Dunaway. Their entire earlier history is also reprinted in this book. Both of these women are very modest about their role in Cooper-Young's comeback, but I think that by telling the story of this neighborhood, they really kick-started a sense of renewed pride and determination to save the community.

Cooper-Young is one of the most successful Midtown neighborhoods, yet in the 1970s, some thought it was a neighborhood in decline. How did it bounce back?

Cooper-Young's older residents were so devoted to their home turf that they worked to keep it going. They worked with newer residents with that goal in mind. Another key ingredient is tolerance. Even though neighbors may not always agree with each other's political views or lifestyles, if you live in Cooper-Young, you're family. We have a healthy racial mix as well. As one of our residents, Beth Pulliam, put it, "I always tell folks that living in Cooper-Young is like living in Memphis in the 1950s but without the prejudice. Folks in Cooper-Young keep an eye out for one another.

What advice can you give to people in other neighborhoods that may be in decline?

Begin by getting to know your neighbors. Throw a block party and invite them all.

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