by Jennifer Sharp —
A pitch is being made to preserve the South Memphis history of Pine Hill Park and The Links at Pine Hill and Downtown’s Robert R. Church Park, which is bordered by Beale St. and Bishop G. E. Patterson Boulevard.
The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church, recently appeared before the Memphis City Council to ask council members to support the preservation of the historic sites.
Pine Hill Park at 1005 Alice Avenue is 14.76 acres and includes a playground, an outdoor basketball court, the Pine Hill Community Center and an 18-hole golf course called The Links at Pine Hill.
The history of Pine Hill dates to a 2,000-acre plantation owned by the Person family.
The Links at Pine Hill was the first integrated golf course in the city of Memphis.
Famed golfer Tiger Woods once led a Junior Golf Clinic at Pine Hill in the 1990s.
For decades, Charles Hudson, who now is retired, was the golf professional and course manager at Pine Hill. He trained aspiring golfers and encouraged youth to learn the game while building a sense of community in South Memphis.
Dr. Gray talked extensively about the history of Pine Hill and Charles Hudson’s impact on golf in that community. He asked the council to rename the clubhouse at The Links at Pine Hill after Hudson.
“Pine Hill has a very rich history as it was the first golf course in Memphis to be desegregated,” said Dr. Gray. “The history of Pine Hill and the history of golf should be enshrined.”
Robert R. Church Park is a 7.68-acre park that includes historic markers, a playground, four mini-pavilions, a short walking trail and picnic tables.
The church is named after Robert Reed Church, who is considered the first Black millionaire. Because the city did not provide any recreational facilities for Black citizens, Church invested in the park in 1899 making Church Park the first of its kind to be exclusive to Black people.
The park contained a playground and a large concert hall, where Black theatrical groups could perform. Guests such as Booker T. Washington, President Teddy Roosevelt, and W.C. Handy all spoke at the concert hall.
Regarding Church Park, Dr. Gray, who spearheaded efforts to have a statute honoring anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Well placed in the park, told council members the park is not being properly cared for.
He also talked about how historic Beale Street Baptist Church, which is next to Church Park, needs its land back for adequate parking space.
“Low maintenance equals no maintenance and the fact that Church Park continues to lie in dormancy is disrespectful,” said Dr. Gray. “Church Park should be more functional with playgrounds, tennis courts, baseball courts, etc.”
“The Memphis City Council controls the budget, and they have the power and funds to put resources into the parks,” said Dr. Gray. “I hope to see them do the right thing and preserve the parks’ history.”
Nick Walker, director of Parks and Neighborhoods for the city of Memphis, told Dr. Gray and councilmembers, that the city is in full support of preserving the legacy and history of the two sites.