His lecture at Rhodes, which is part of the college’s “Communities in Conversation” lecture series, will examine the origins of the Memphis riot, describe its horrific violence, assess its significance in American history, and especially its importance to Memphis as a city. This event is free and open to the public and will be
followed by a book signing.
Ash’s book gives a portrait of Memphis as a southern city in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. It was a
time when racial tensions were high and there was talk of the Emancipation Proclamation as an abomination
by “Rebel Memphis” and their Irish supporters. Most whites resented the influx of blacks into the city and
especially the presence of black federal troops and Yankees who had come to assist the recently freed
slaves. By spring of 1866, tensions were high and riots and racially incited murder ensued. Congress
eventually blamed them on “the intense hatred of the freed people by the city’s whites, especially the Irish — a hatred stoked by the Rebel newspapers.”
“Meticulous . . . Ash offers remarkable portraits of ordinary Memphians . . . caught up in the tumult of their
time . . . riveting.”— Kirkus (starred review)
“This detailed account of the lengthy riot and its reverberations surges at the reader . . . For those who want
to understand the roots of America's racial issues, Ash's captivating and thoughtful book offers explanations
and raises many new questions.” — Publishers Weekly
The Memphis Massacre is one of the best-documented episodes of American history in the nineteenth
century. And yet it remains little known today, even by Memphians. This event is part of a semester-long
effort to commemorate the Memphis Massacre, headed up by University of Memphis historians Beverly Bond
and Susan O’Donovan. They are working with a slew of community partners, including the National Park
Service and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and Humanities Tennessee. The goal of this
communal series of events is to shatter the silence about the Memphis Massacre and to mark this moment
as a turning point in Memphis, Southern, and American history. Ash’s lecture will be an important occasion in
this set of events.
Ash was awarded the UT Alexander Prize for Distinguished Research and Teaching in 2005, and the UT
Chancellor’s Award for Research and Creative Achievement in 2004. Rhodes College is excited to have him
deepen our understanding of the history of our city.