Historian and author G. Wayne Dowdy says that A Brief History of Memphis (The History Press, $19.99) tells the city's story in largely a positive light, outlining three revolutions that changed the world. But, he notes, "To understand the city, you can't ignore more unsavory aspects."
One such aspect is the matter of a disgruntled politician, circa 1830s, who allegedly sent a boat filled with animal waste into a bay, where it turned over and contaminated the water. Countering this nasty business is the role of African Americans in politics. Dowdy says they came up with the strategy of bloc voting and planted the seeds of the civil rights movement. That was one revolution.
The other two revolutions that had far-reaching consequences were Memphis' roles in music (notably Elvis and Stax) and in entrepreneurship (Piggly Wiggly, FedEx).
A Brief History of Memphis is Dowdy's fourth book. He's written two on the political legacy of E.H. Crump (far more progressive than people give him credit for, Dowdy says) and one titled Hidden History of Memphis, which includes the remarkable tale of a Boy Scout who uncovered a German spy ring.
"The place is not perfect," Dowdy says of the city, "but it has a unique story to tell."
G. Wayne Dowdy signs "A Brief History of Memphis" Thursday, December 8th, 6 p.m., at the Booksellers at Laurelwood.