On This Date, Something Happened: Memphis Martyrs

Posted by Holly Whitfield | May 19th 2011 2714 0

When the Mississippi River was spilling over last week and throngs of people were gathered on Riverside Drive to take a look, I headed somewhere a little more remote.

Martyr’s Park, on the Southern edge of Downtown, is remote, peaceful and high enough on the bluff that you can get a really great view of the river and both bridges (it’s almost exactly underneath the Old Bridge).

From Martyr's Park, Memphis, Tenn.

What I didn’t realize is what Martyr’s Park is named after. The park (and a giant sculpture in the park) are dedicated to the roughly 20,000 Memphians who stuck around to treat the sick when yellow fever epidemics decimated the city. Here’s the marker:

Memphis Martyrs Historical Marker

“”In August, 1878, fear of death caused a panic during which 30,000 of 50,000 Memphians fled the bluff city. By October, the epidemic of yellow fever killed 4204 of 6,000 Caucasians and 946 of 14,000 Negroes who stayed. With some outside help, citizens of all races and walks of life, recognizing their common plight in this devastated, bankrupt community, tended 17600 sick and buried the dead. As a result, many of them lost their lives, becoming martyrs in their service to mankind.”

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