Tennessee 9th District
Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, though its metropolitan area is second to Nashville. In the state’s far southwestern corner, 500 miles from the Appalachian border with Virginia but only 20 miles from Mississippi’s cotton fields and riverboat casinos, metropolitan Memphis has one of the highest percentages of African-Americans in the country, evidence of the city’s economic heritage as a capital of the Cotton Kingdom. Big Mississippi planters used to come north to sell their crops in the courtyard of the Peabody Hotel, then make financial arrangements for the next growing season. According to tradition, ducks still famously march daily to the hotel’s fountain for a dip.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The city’s most celebrated tradition is the blues, a musical form worlds apart from Nashville’s country music, which emerged from mountainous, mainly white Middle and East Tennessee. The Memphis sound originated from the self-taught musical stylings of poor, rural blacks in the Mississippi Delta. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the most talented black musicians migrated north to Memphis and congregated downtown on Beale Street. The blues sound was later adapted by Elvis Presley, a poor white from rural Mississippi, in pivotal sessions in July 1954 at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio in Memphis—the birth of rock ’n’ roll. In the early 1960s, Memphis once again became the crucible of a new sound, soul music, which emerged as a counterpoint to rock, its increasingly white-dominated cousin. For some years, Memphis tried to downplay its musical heritage. Much of Beale Street was razed and set on a misguided path toward urban renewal. But the city came to recognize its history as an asset. Graceland, Presley’s garishly decorated mansion, attracts hordes of musical pilgrims from all over the world, and a Museum of American Soul Music opened in 2003 on the site of the Stax studio, demolished in 1989. Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and Sam & Dave made their records at the Stax studio.
Geographically central, Memphis is the home of the first supermarket chain: the Piggly Wiggly, founded in 1916 (its symbol, Mr. Pig, has slimmed down since then). It also hosted the first Holiday Inn. The biggest employer by far is FedEx, operating out of the world’s busiest cargo airport, although the company did announce layoffs in 2009. The airport pumps nearly $21 billion into the economy every year. Northwest Airlines had a domestic hub at Memphis, until it merged in 2008 with Delta Airlines. For some years, racial discord scarred the political life of Memphis. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated there in 1968, and the site, the Lorraine Motel, has been converted into a civil rights museum. Even today, resurgent Beale Street is one of the few racially integrated spaces in the city, a division that holds equally true in voting. Blacks vote almost unanimously Democratic, and whites vote Republican by margins almost as great. Blacks narrowly outnumber whites in Shelby County. Many African-Americans have moved into the middle class, although Memphis continues to have the highest poverty rate in Tennessee. In recent years, Memphis has been losing population, shrinking by nearly 12,000 people between 2000 and 2006.
The 9th Congressional District of Tennessee consists of most of the city of Memphis, some of its suburban fringe and about 30 precincts in east Shelby County. The black-majority 9th remains the strongest Democratic district in the state and is essential to the success of Democrats running statewide. In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama greatly improved on Al Gore’s 63% in 2000 and John Kerry’s 70% in 2004 by winning 78% in the district in 2008.