In 2008, after 10 years of research, Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis published her book Notable Black Memphians, a biographical and historical study that documents the accomplishments of more than 200 African Americans born between 1795 and 1972 who were instrumental in paving the way for society and strengthening the Memphis community.
Now, 12 years later, her hard work is being displayed at Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum starting Friday, February 7, until March 15th.
DeCosta-Willis herself has made strides in the civil rights movements, having been the first African-American professor at Memphis State University, participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts with her mother, and more.
- Miriam DeCosta-Willis
"I have been an activist all my life," she says. "And I think [my ex-husband Russell Sugarmon and] I have passed the political bug down to two of my children."
DeCosta-Willis is the mother of four children, two of whom are active in the local political scene: Erika Sugarmon (a candidate in last year's City Council elections) and Tarik Sugarmon (a judge for Division 2 of the Memphis Municipal Court). One of her other daughters, Elena Williams, is helping her put this exhibit together.
"I raised them to be independent primarily and to seek their own area of community activism," she says.
DeCosta-Willis credits her lineage for influencing her family's involvement in the community. Her great-grandfather was born into slavery and was freed in 1865, after which, he was able to turn around and acquire property, put all 12 children through college, and give back to the community.
"I'm proud of my enslaved ancestors," she says. "And I always talk about my descendents because I'm very proud of them, too."
Notable Black Memphians, Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum, Friday, February 7th, 5-8 p.m., $20.