General History

Historic Timelines

General History

40,000-17,000 BC

Paleo-Indians come to the Delta. Seventeen to forty thousand years ago, when sea levels are low enough to walk from Siberia to Alaska, eastern Siberians cross into what is now North America. The Ice Age (23,000-16,000 years ago) makes southward travel from Alaska almost impossible. By the time the Ice Age retreats, people appear to be hunting bison and mastodon in what is now the Triangle area. As the area warms, Paleo-Indians create new ways to hunt and make carvings, ground stone beads, etc. After the Ice Age, the Mississippi Valley fills with alluvium, making it some of the most fertile soil in the world.

1650-700 BC

Poverty Point. On a bluff, twenty-five miles from the Mississippi River (near present-day Epps, Louisiana), earthworks and mounds are uncovered in what becomes known as Poverty Point. The inhabitants were living in permanent settlements close by the Mississippi River. There’s evidence of ceremonial activity and trading.

500 BC-1,000 AD

Introduction of the bow-and-arrow. Greater efficiency in killing prey contributes to an increase in population.


The Mississippian period. Settlements are built along the major waterways in the Triangle. Crops are farmed in the rich alluvial soil. Societies become stratified with chiefs living on mounds surrounded by fortified villages.


Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda searches the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for a passageway to the Pacific Ocean. He’s the first European to see the Mississippi River, and he maps the Gulf coast.


Hernando de Soto’s expedition: first Europeans enter Mississippi. Starting from Florida, DeSoto travels through what is now Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Alabama. He finds the Chickasaw, Chakchiuma, and Alabama Indians in east-central Mississippi and later the Tunica and Quapaw in northwest Mississippi. By the spring of 1541, he has reached what is now Memphis, and travels through what is now Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He dies in Arkansas or Louisiana in 1542.


First Spanish settlement at Pensacola.


St. Augustine becomes capital of Florida.


British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The first permanent British settlement in the New World.


First Africans transported to North America. Initially, they are indentured servants, as are approximately half the white immigrants, but by the 1660s, slavery is institutionalized in British North America.


Spanish settle what is now Texas, and LaSalle claims the Mississippi for France. Descending the Mississippi from the north, LaSalle tries, in 1685, to establish a French colony near the mouth to secure it for France.


French and English explore the Triangle area. The British, arriving from the Carolinas, encounter the Chickasaws near what is now Tupelo. The French settle in what is now Ocean Springs. By 1702, the French are trading guns to the Choctaws to battle the Chickasaws, and they have established the colony of Louisiana, comprising most of the Mississippi drainage basin from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Lower Louisiana colonists come from France, French Canada, and the French West Indies. After Louisiana is ceded to Spain, Spanish colonists settle the area. Those whose ancestry is French, Spanish, and African come to be known as Creoles.  By 1720 the presence of French traders and posts were in both middle and east Tennessee.


First Mardi Gras celebration occurs in Mobile. Three years later Mobile, now in Alabama, is named the capital of Louisiana.


French Traders in Middle Tennessee. Charles Charleville operates a trading post near a salt lick, later known as the French Lick, at present-day Nashville.


Founding of New Orleans. New Orleans is founded on a crescent that is presumed safe from flooding. In 1720, the capital of Louisiana is moved to Biloxi, and then, in 1723, to New Orleans. Settlers export pelts and products (wood, sugar-cane, rice, and corn) from the new plantations and exchange them for guns and manufactured goods.


First slave ships arrive on the Gulf coast. They land at Biloxi. A scheme to populate Louisiana with Europeans is barely more humane. In 1720, ten thousand Europeans respond to advertisements offering free transportation. Half of those transported die en route.


Ft. Assumption is built at Memphis. French settlers build a fortified settlement near what is now Memphis. The Spanish build a fort there in 1795 after Spain gains control of the area.


Deportation of Acadians. The British governor of Nova Scotia orders the mass deportation of French colonists. Around ten thousand are expelled.


Louisiana ceded by France to Spain. East side of the Mississippi ceded to the British. Following the Seven Years War, Spain gains control of Louisiana, and recruits Catholic, anti-British Acadians with land grants. The first Acadians arrive in 1765, and “Acadian” is later corrupted to “Cajun.”


Mason-Dixon Line surveyed. It becomes a cultural boundary between the northeastern and southern states, especially after Pennsylvania abolishes slavery.


Transylvania Purchase is completed. Speculator Richard Henderson negotiates a huge land purchase from the Cherokees that opens central Kentucky and Tennessee to settlement.  Pioneers use overland Indian routes and the rivers to create isolated settlements on the fringe of the southwest frontier.


The Declaration of Independence. Thirteen primarily English states vote to secede from British governance. Spain funnels arms to the rebels, and controls the Triangle area, together with most of what is now Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Spain’s mainland American colonies are administered from Cuba. In the peace treaty of 1783, the thirteen states became the United States of America.


Settlement begins in Middle Tennessee. James Robertson and John Donelson establish a Cumberland River settlement—named Nashville by 1784.  Hundreds of other settlers follow and establish farms in the immediate region. To protect their land titles and create a rudimentary government, they create the Cumberland Compact. 250 settlers sign this document in 1780.


New Orleans fire. Most of the city is destroyed and rebuilt. The distinctive architecture of the French Quarter is actually in the Spanish style.


Andrew Jackson signs a loyalty oath to Spain. Jackson along with numerous other Tennesseans signs a loyalty oath to Spain in Natchez, so they can do business there. This fact remains unknown until the late 1990s.


President George Washington orders a fort and trading post to be built near what is now Muscle Shoals. The area has rich soil for cotton planting, but the local Chickamauga and Creek Indians annihilate the U.S. troops, and the area is abandoned.


Congress creates the Southwest Territory. Knoxville becomes territorial capital.


Cotton gin patented. Slavery reinvigorated. Eli Whitney’s invention enables seeds to be removed from cotton, formerly a labor-intensive process. Cotton can now be grown on an industrial scale, requiring a vast expansion of slave labor in the Southern states where cotton is viable. Cotton exports grow from 500,000 pounds in 1793 to 93 million pounds in 1810. Unlike most crops, cotton can be stored on long trips without degrading. Slave labor, on the decline until ginning, becomes an economic necessity.


Tennessee becomes a state. Knoxville is first capital.


Thomas Jefferson becomes President. Jefferson strongly believes that the future of the new nation lies to the west.  He is worried about the Spanish and French presence on the edges of the southwest territory. He had strongly supported statehood for Kentucky and Tennessee in the prior decade because most leaders in both states were political allies.


The Natchez Trace. Although some of the land is still under Spanish or Choctaw control, Jefferson approves the federal government’s construction of a road from Natchez to Nashville, based on ancient Choctaw trails. It becomes the only major trade route between the United States and Louisiana until the steamboats arrive. The first steamboat travels between Natchez and New Orleans in 1811. Commerce expands, bringing more of the Delta within reach of eastern and European markets.


Louisiana Purchase. The French briefly regain Louisiana from Spain, but almost immediately sell 800,000 square miles to the United States for 80 million francs/$15 million.  Jefferson’s vision of America moving westward takes a huge step forward.  To better understand the new land, and to forge alliances with Native Americans, Jefferson forms the Lewis and Clark expedition.  William Clark comes to Tennessee to recruit expedition members.


Transporting of slaves from Africa prohibited. Trading the four million slaves, most of them in the South, is still permissible. Slaves continue to be transported to some Spanish colonies until the 1860s.


Meriwether Lewis dies on Natchez Trace. At a stand, or tavern, on the Natchez Trace in present-day Lewis County, Tennessee, Lewis and Clark expedition leader Meriwether Lewis dies under mysterious circumstances, still debated today.  His invaluable journals of the expedition are recovered and eventually make an overland trip through Tennessee to Washington, D.C.


Steamboats on Mississippi River and tributaries. Nicholas J. Roosevelt sails the steamboat New Orleans down the Mississippi past the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis area).


New Madrid Earthquakes. Towns are destroyed, new lakes created, and the Mississippi flows backward. Parts of Arkansas sink as much as fifty feet, including the area around Dyess where Johnny Cash later grows up.


The Creek War rages across Alabama. Gen. Andrew Jackson leads Tennessee volunteers to victories in the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega in the fall of 1813 and then smashes the Creeks at the decisive battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814.  Jackson forces Creeks to cede their southern Georgia and central Alabama lands to the U.S. government and becomes a national figure.


Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans. Although negotiations ending the War of 1812 were complete, British forces had orders to attack New Orleans.  Jackson’s force of U.S. Regulars, volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky, free blacks, and local Baratarians smash the British army, forcing a retreat. Jackson’s fame grows across the nation.  He later becomes the first U.S. President from the Inland South.


Jackson Military Road. Congress approves appropriations for a new federal military road between Tennessee and New Orleans.  The road begins in Columbia, Tennessee, passes through the Muscle Shoals area, and into northwestern Mississippi.  The present-day highway U.S. 43 parallels most of the historic route between Tennessee and Florence.


Mississippi becomes a state. Natchez becomes the state capital until 1821. The eastern half of what had been the Mississippi Territory becomes the Alabama Territory.


Chickasaw Treaty of 1818. Chickasaw Nation cedes West Tennessee to the United States.


Florence, Alabama Territory, surveyed. The largest town in the Shoals is surveyed; town is incorporated in 1826.


Slave Market in Natchez. Slaves are brought from Virginia to markets in Natchez and New Orleans to meet the booming demand for plantation labor.


Alabama becomes a state. First capitol is Huntsville, later moved to Montgomery in the heart of the Black Belt.


Memphis founded. John Overton, James Winchester, and Andrew Jackson found the city of Memphis along the banks of the Mississippi River.


Steamboats boom on Mississippi River. Steamboat business on river continues to grow, reaches over 1,200 boats by the end of decade.


Jackson inaugurated as President of the United States. The first President from west of the Appalachians and a sign of how the inland South between the mountains and the Mississippi River has become a political power.  The Jacksonian Democracy era is underway.  Expansion to the west is a major creed of the Jacksonians, and over the next generation such Jackson followers as Sam Houston and James K. Polk expand the nation across the southwest and northwest to the coast.


Indian Removal. Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Chickasaws, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Cherokee tribes are compelled to leave the eastern United States on forced marches to the so-called Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, west of Arkansas. By 1837-38, 46,000 Native Americans are expelled—many of whom die en route on what became known as the Trail of Tears–opening up 25 million acres to white settlement. The Upper Creeks are assembled for deportation at what is now Muscle Shoals; a group of Cherokee led by John Bell crosses the Mississippi River at Memphis.


First Showboat on the Mississippi River. William Chapman launches the first showboat that travels the Mississippi/Ohio Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.


“Young Hickory” Becomes President; Manifest Destiny is realized. James K. Polk of Columbia, Tennessee and a close political ally of Andrew Jackson, becomes President of the United States.  He owns a plantation worked by slaves in Mississippi.  He moves quickly to expand the nation to the west coast.  Texas is annexed in 1845.  He negotiates a treaty with Great Britain to add Oregon Territory in 1846.  The War with Mexico (1846-1848) leads to treaties that expand national boundaries to California.


Andrew Jackson dies at the Hermitage. A political era ends.  When Sam Houston in Texas learns of Jackson’s impending death, he rushes across the region to the Hermitage, arriving just hours after the former president’s death.


Birth of the Levee System. More land along the Mississippi becomes cultivable, again increasing the need for labor.


Railroad Boom Across Inland South. The Memphis and Charleston (M&C) Railroad, incorporated in 1846, runs from Memphis across Mississippi and Alabama to reach Stevenson, Alabama by 1857, where it connects with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.  Present-day U.S. 72 largely parallels this route.  At Grand Junction, Tennessee, the Mississippi Central connects the line to Oxford, Mississippi.


The Mobile and Ohio Railroad is built from Columbus, Kentucky, to Jackson, Tennessee, in 1858, and to Mobile, Alabama, by 1861. Present-day U.S. 45 largely follows this route.


Nashville and Decatur Railroad connects Nashville to Muscle Shoals area.


The Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad, finished in 1861, connects Memphis and Grenada, Mississippi, improving access between Memphis and New Orleans.


New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad connects New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.  After the Civil War, it serves as a key link in the Illinois Central Railroad empire.


New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic. Nearly eight thousand people die. The total population then is around 116,000.


Memphis Yellow Fever Epidemic. Town loses charter.


Nashville Music Publishing Industry Begins. Southern Methodist Publishing House is established in Nashville.

1859 or 1860

Last slave ship arrives in the United States. Defying anti-slavery blockades, the Clotilde lands in Mobile with 110 slaves. After Emancipation, they found Africatown, near Mobile, where they continue to speak African dialects and grow African crops. Cudjoe Lewis—the last surviving enslaved African brought on the Clotilde, dies in 1935. Zora Neale Hurston’s film of him is the only known footage of an enslaved man born in Africa.


The Confederacy forms. After Secession Convention in Jackson, Mississippi, Jefferson Davis sworn in as President of Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama.


Civil War Battles Rage Across Region. Shiloh (April 1862); New Orleans (April 1862); Memphis (June 1862); Corinth (October 1862); Vicksburg (July 1863); Tupelo (July 1864); Mobile Bay (August 1864); Franklin (November 1864); Nashville (December 1864)


Contraband Camps for Escaped Slaves Established. Dozens of contraband camps, federal enclosures for escaped slaves, are located in major towns and cities.  Large camps include President’s Island in Memphis, Corinth, Mississippi, Carrollton (New Orleans), Baton Rouge, and Nashville.


Emancipation Proclamation. Issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, it is ratified as the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. The South and Haiti become the only places in the western hemisphere where slavery is overturned by violence.


The Reconstruction Era. African Americans over the next few years gain the ballot and become politically active.  African American men become office holders in local and state governments.  They also form new schools, churches, and businesses.  In reaction, whites establish secretive groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (beginning in Pulaski, Tennessee) and political violence happens in many towns and cities.  The most infamous were the Memphis Riot and New Orleans riot of 1866. Federal troops remain in many Southern cities until the mid-1870s.


Beale Street in Memphis emerges as black cultural center. The boundary street between white and black Memphis becomes a key institutional center for African American business, religion, and culture.  Twentieth century nightclubs and theaters along Beale Street are associated with such artists as W. C. Handy, Lucie C. Campbell, and B.B. King.


New South Industries. In the wake of the destruction of the Civil War, northern and southern investors look to a “New South” of industry and cities.  Birmingham, established in 1870 as a steel producer, is one of many new industrial cities that are created over the next ten years.


Jubilee Singers of Fisk University are established. College group gains worldwide fame after successful European tour.  Group still performs almost 150 years later.


Jim Crow. By 1877, Federal troops are gone, and Southern legislatures enact “Jim Crow” laws, emphasizing the “separate” part of “separate but equal,” and disenfranchising African American voters with literacy tests, poll taxes, residency, and record-keeping requirements. By 1888, Mississippi has enforced statewide segregation. In 1896, the Supreme Court upholds “separate but equal.” By 1910, only 730 African Americans are registered to vote in Louisiana. Enforced apartheid means that African American culture in the Triangle thrives separately from mainstream white culture.


Thomas Edison patents the Phonograph. Sound is encrypted onto cylinders wrapped in tin foil, but the recordings cannot be duplicated. Even after records can be mass-produced, the music created within the Triangle isn’t recorded because the phonograph is seen as a toy for the urban rich. The first Jazz records aren’t made until 1917, and Blues, Country, and Cajun music aren’t recorded until the 1920s.


Yellow Fever Epidemic Crushes Memphis. The fifth yellow fever epidemic kills over 5,000 residents.  Twenty-five thousand residents flee the city.  In 1879, the state legislature revokes Memphis’s charter.


Railroads Begin to Transform Delta. The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (later called the Yellow Dog Railroad) is incorporated.  The line parallels the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans, with branches throughout the Delta.  Constructed to help the lumber industry take away the region’s hardwood forests, the line becomes part of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1892, transporting Delta cotton to northern mills.


Ida B. Wells refuses to give up her seat on the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad. Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks (see 1955), Ida Wells—then a teacher in Memphis, is dragged from her seat after refusing to give it up.


Mound Bayou is established in Mississippi. The first all African American town, under African American control, is established in the Mississippi Delta.


“The Curve” lynchings in Memphis. Three African American men are lynched in the “Curve” neighborhood of Memphis.  Outraged journalist Ida B. Wells begins a campaign against white lynch mobs.  By 1892 mob violence and threats force her to leave Memphis.


Orange Mound neighborhood is established in Memphis. Tennessee’s first African American neighborhood under African American control is established in Memphis.


The boll weevil. Feeding on cotton buds and flowers, it decimates cotton crops. Migrating to the United States from Mexico, it is first spotted in Brownsville, Texas in 1892, arrives in Mississippi in 1907, and has spread throughout the South by 1910. Songs about the boll weevil are later recorded by Lead Belly, Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Blind Willie McTell, and several Country musicians including Gid Tanner. (The most famous boll weevil song, recorded by Lead Belly in 1934, has been revived of late by the North Mississippi All-Stars, Bobby Bare, the White Stripes, and Old Crow Medicine Show).


First bridge across the lower Mississippi. The Frisco Bridge between Memphis and Arkansas opens to rail traffic.


Beginnings of the Great Migration. Ninety percent of African Americans still live in the South, but some migrate to Kansas, where a thriving nightclub scene creates a vibrant strain of Jazz. Some, including Louis Armstrong’s kin, move from Louisiana plantations to New Orleans, interacting with the local Creoles, who date their presence in the city to the 1700s. The spirit of liberation is reflected in Ragtime music, an immediate forebear of Jazz.


Jazz and Blues emerge. In New Orleans, Jazz coalesces from Ragtime, Blues, brass band music and Afro Caribbean music. The birth of the Blues is even more poorly documented. Field chants, work songs, spirituals, folk ballads, and minstrel era popular songs combine at a time when very few believe that the music of sharecroppers or former slaves is worth documenting.


NAACP formed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is formed in New York, prompted by a race riot in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown, Springfield, Illinois. At the founding, only one African American, W.E.B. DuBois, is on the board. In attendance at the founding is Ida B. Wells, originally from Holly Springs, Mississippi (see 1884).


First Great Migration. An estimated 1.6 million migrants leave the Deep South, mostly for the expanding northern cities of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.


New “interstate” highways. Private associations work with local and state governments to establish the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, the Dixie Highway, and the Robert E. Lee Memorial Highway.  Automobile tourism in the South starts to grow.


First Jazz composition in print. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues” is published.


First supermarket opens in Memphis. Clarence Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly store is the first to embody the supermarket format.


The United States enters World War I. Corn, wheat, and cotton prices reach new highs, spurring new tilling, growing, and borrowing.


Construction begins on Wilson Dam, near present-day Muscle Shoals. The dam is constructed on the Tennessee River to supply nitrate plants for war munitions, but the need diminishes after the war ended. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford visit the area in 1921 talking of a new mega-city, prompting a land rush and subsequent bust.


Commodity prices decline. States depending on agriculture, especially in the South, are hard hit. Foreclosure and deepening poverty become the norm during the so-called Jazz Age. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms in the United States is sold, usually at a distressed price. Memphis songwriter Bob Miller distils the problem in his 1928 song “Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat,” and Blind Alfred Reed in his 1929 song “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live.”


Commercial radio launched. Stations quickly proliferate. Record sales fall from $106 million in 1921 to $59 million in 1925. Record companies look for markets without electricity where radio cannot be picked up, but where records can be played on wind-up phonographs. They begin investigating Country and Blues. Radio and records disseminate music infinitely faster than traveling musicians, evangelists, or minstrel shows. Aspiring musicians can now easily study other musicians’ work without needing to understand written music.


First New Orleans black Jazz recordings. New Orleans group, Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band, became first New Orleans African American band to do a Jazz recording.


Muscle Shoals incorporated. The population is just 727.


First Grand Ole Opry broadcast. WSM Radio in Nashville begins weekly broadcasts of the WSM Barn Dance but is soon nicknamed as the Grand Ole Opry by announcer George D. Hay.


Mississippi River floods three million acres in the Delta. This was the most destructive flood in US history and caused major changes in public policy on flood control measures that were taken by the fed government. It was also a catalyst of the great migration on African Americans. The flood is memorialized in songs by Charley Patton, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, and others, and in prose by Richard Wright and William Faulkner. The river becomes sixty miles wide at some points, displacing 700,000 people.

A playlist of songs about the flood:


The Great Depression begins. Agricultural prices, already depressed, plummet further, but the Great Migration of African Americans slows because of the scarcity of jobs elsewhere.


Several manufacturers begin electric guitar production. Rickenbacker, Stromberg, and others make the guitar audible above ensembles.


WSM Transmission Tower begins operation. The over 800-foot high transmission tower allows the signal of WSM in Nashville to reach most states, Canada, and Mexico, creating new audiences for the Grand Ole Opry.


Tennessee Valley Authority Act signed. The area covered by the TVA has an average family income of $639 a year. The TVA is designed to modernize the region by teaching farmers to improve crop yields, and supplying affordable electricity, thereby attracting industry. At first, the TVA is located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, but the presence of the TVA spurs industrial growth in and around Muscle Shoals.


Prohibition repealed. There is a big uptick in demand for live music as honky tonks begin to proliferate.


New Deal relief agencies begin transformation of South. Many unemployed laborers in the Triangle region are assigned to improvement projects. One project involves the clearance of 16,000 acres of forested swamp bottomland near Dyess, Arkansas, and many displaced farm families, including Johnny Cash’s, begin farming in the area.


New Deal music projects underway. The Federal Music Project (1935-39), WPA Music Program (1939-1943), and the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song (launched in 1928) begin the study and recording of traditional and folk songs across the region.  Alan Lomax and his father John A. Lomax are particularly important in the South.


Mechanical Cotton-Picker demonstrated. The Rust brothers in Memphis demonstrate their machine in Stoneville, Mississippi, but the technology is flawed and financing isn’t forthcoming. International Harvester begins work on another design. John Rust later reconfigures his design and sells the patents to Allis-Chalmers.


Robert Johnson recordings released. From late 1936 and 1937 sessions in Dallas and San Antonio, Robert Johnson makes numerous recordings for the American Record Company.  Their re-release by Columbia in 1990 helps to fuel the Americana music movement.  Johnson dies in 1938.


Second Great Migration. An estimated five million African Americans leave the South for the North and West.


Richard Wright’sNative Son” published. Wright, originally from Roxie, Mississippi, makes the case that there is no escape for African Americans because they are the product of the society that formed them and told them since birth who they were supposed to be. The novel explains the racial divide in terms of the social conditions imposed on African-Americans by white society.


United States declares war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the disruption that follows, many Southerners—both black and white—leave the South to work in munitions plants or to serve in the armed forces. They take their music and culture with them.


Acuff-Rose Publishing House opens in Nashville. The firm becomes hugely successful after signing Hank Williams in 1946.


First cotton crop produced without hand labor on the Hopson Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. Planting, chopping, and picking become entirely mechanized, leading to an exodus of agricultural labor, especially African American labor. Until 1970, Mississippi experiences an annual net loss of population.


We Shall Overcome.” Striking tobacco workers in Charleston, South Carolina, sing the song on the picket line. Activist Zilphia Horton learns it when a group of the strikers visits the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, and the song falls into the hands of singing Socialists (the first recording, in 1950, is by folk singer Joe Glazer for the AFL-CIO). Soon, it becomes an anthem of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.


WLAC and R&B music. Clear channel WLAC in Nashville begins late night programs of R&B music, sponsored by Randy Wood of Gallatin.  Randy’s Record Mart becomes the nation’s largest mail-order record business.


J&M Recording Studio, New Orleans, begins. Roy Brown records “Good Rockin’ Tonight” at the famed New Orleans studio.


The rift in the Democratic Party. The South has been solidly Democrat since the Civil War, but in July 1948 Senator Hubert Humphrey gives a speech at the Democratic National Convention calling on Democrats to oppose segregation. Delegates from Mississippi and Alabama walk out. At a Dixiecrat Convention in Birmingham later that month, the States Rights Democratic Party nominates Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as its presidential candidate. That same year, President Harry Truman orders the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces.


WDIA begins all-black programming. This Memphis radio station was South’s first all-black radio station. B. B. King and Rufus Thomas work as disc jockeys, giving exposure to such regional blues stars as Little Milton and Junior Parker and local gospel groups like the Spirit of Memphis and the Southern Wonders. Bobby Blue Bland, Johnny Ace, and Roscoe Gordon even cut some of their first records in the WDIA studio.


Holiday Inn begins business. Kemmons Wilson launches the first Holiday Inn on Poplar Avenue in Memphis.


Brown vs. Board Education. The Supreme Court rules that separate but equal facilities are unconstitutional; school desegregation does not begin in earnest until the 1960s.


Elvis records released. Sam Phillips releases first record by Elvis Presley on Sun Records in Memphis.  One side of the record is a cover of a Blues song, “That’s All Right,” and the other side is a Bluegrass song, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”


Fourteen year-old Emmett Till murdered at Money, Mississippi. His mother allows photos of his disfigured body to be published, causing national outrage.


Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, spurring a boycott lasting more than a year. Anti-Segregation sentiment grows within the South.


Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights is establishedRev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham led the ACMHR as the leading Civil Rights organization in Alabama.


Southern Christian Leadership Conference is formed in Atlanta. Led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., SCLC became a regional civil rights leader.


Civil Rights Act of 1957. Civil Rights Act, permitting the federal government to sue on behalf of citizens and creating the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, is signed by President Eisenhower. Nine students integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Eisenhower sends paratroopers to enforce the desegregation.  In May Clinton High School in Tennessee graduates the first African American student at a state-supported public school since Reconstruction.


RCA Recording Studio opens in Nashville. Eight years later, in 1965, RCA expands and spurs new growth on Music Row by adding a larger facility, Studio A, and offices to its Nashville property. The old studio is dubbed Studio B.


Stax Records begins Memphis as Satellite Records. It changes name in 1960.


Impact of Urban Renewal Projects. The construction of the interstate highway system, combined with federally funded urban renewal projects, damage and transform many African American urban cultural centers, such as Beale Street in Memphis, Jefferson Street in Nashville, downtown Montgomery and Mobile, and North Claiborne Avenue neighborhood in New Orleans.


Fame Studio is established in Florence, Alabama. This studio becomes the center of the Muscle Shoals sound that became internationally famous in the 1960s.


Nashville Sit-In strikes. Aimed at downtown businesses and lunch counters, the successful demonstrations launch both the student movement and non-violent means of protest.


Civil Rights Act. Supreme Court bans segregation in bus terminals. President Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960, giving federal government responsibility in civil rights issues. Homes of Civil Rights activists in Nashville are damaged in a bombing.


James Meredith applies to the University of Mississippi. Freedom rides begin. In 1962, the Supreme Court orders that Meredith be admittedly immediately. The ensuing riots lead President Kennedy to dispatch federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi. Thirteen Freedom Riders begin a bus trip through South to force desegregation of terminals. The bus is bombed and passengers attacked.


Preservation Hall opens in New Orleans. This French Quarter institution was designed to preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans Jazz.


NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers killed in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1994 his killer is finally convicted.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives his “I Have a Dream” speech. More than 250,000 civil rights demonstrators march on Washington, D.C., where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech.


Civil Rights Act. U.S. Congress passes Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination in public places, schools, lodging, federal programs and employment. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize.


Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. In the aftermath of violent demonstrations in Selma, AL, Congress approves the landmark Voting Rights Act.


RCA Victor Building Opens. The Nashville landmark gives a corporate imprint on Music Row by providing the South with its first state-of-the-art recording studio along with an attached office complex used by Gospel, Cajun, Country, and Pop labels.


Bob Dylan records in Nashville. At Columbia Studios, Bob Dylan records bulk of his masterpiece Blonde on Blonde.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated in Memphis. He was in Memphis to address striking sanitation workers.


Former Alabama governor George Wallace runs for President of the United States. His American Independent Party has the goal of rolling back federal desegregation legislation. He takes five southern states and 13.5% of the vote.


Federal Express. Based in Memphis, the courier service is launched by Fred Smith, initially serving 25 cities.


Grand Ole Opry Moves Venues. Grand Ole Opry moves from the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville to the new, technologically advanced Grand Ole Opry House.


Alex Haley’sRoots.” The book and mini-series, although fictionalized, give African Americans a sense of their history. Thirty years later, after the introduction of DNA testing, Henry Louis Gates’ TV show, African American Lives, enables participants to get a clearer idea of the part of Africa from which their ancestors came together with a sense of how much European and Native American ancestry they have.


Urban Decline Marks Cities. Major cities suffer serious economic reverses in the 1960s and 1970s as whites move to suburbs and reinvestment in downtown is not encouraged.  In Memphis, for example, much of the historic Beale Street neighborhood, except for a few blocks, is demolished.


New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park established in New Orleans.


Delta Blues Museum opens in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is one of the first institutions in the Deep South to recognize the area’s cultural contribution.


Hurricane Katrina devastates the Gulf Coast. In its aftermath, the population of New Orleans is reduced by one half. The population recovers although the demographic make-up changes. The city has courted IT, biotech, and film industries, while the urban African American poor have not returned in large numbers. Tourism is back to pre-Katrina levels.


New National Heritage Areas Recognize Region’s Music. Congress establishes the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area in Florence, AL, and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in Cleveland, MS.

Back to Top