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Orange Mound history chronicled in new independent movie release

“Orange Mound: A Black Lecture Critical Race Theory” is a historical documentary telling the stories of trailblazers and pioneers who have become a part of the community’s legend.

Anthony “Amp” Elmore (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“Orange Mound has five Super Bowl rings, one Oscar, three Olympic gold medals, three blues legends, and more than 60 gold records,” said Anthony “Amp” Elmore, creator of the three-hour documentary. 

“Orange Mound is the most American community in America.”

Elmore looks forward to a worldwide release on YouTube, slated for March 26, 7 p.m. Central Time (8 p.m. Eastern). 

Watch parties and other group events surrounding the release already are being planned.

“I believe it’s important for our children to know the history of Orange Mound, especially our young people still living here,” said LaTonia Blankenship, Orange Mound Collaborative Group chair. “I am hosting an inter-generational watch party so that our seniors can enjoy seeing the community in its heyday while our children listen to their stories.”

Self-proclaimed Orange Mound resident Mary Mitchell calls Orange Mound “a sacred place.” She saw first-hand so many people and places viewers should expect to see in Elmore’s production. 

“It was like heaven growing up here,” said Mitchell. “Today, I still live in our family’s home house. We moved to Orange Mound when I was 5 years old, and I’m 85 now. I tried living in other places, but it just didn’t work. I still have our family’s relics from slavery.” 

Mitchell hopes the film will harken to a time when Orange Mound was “a city unto itself.”

“Everything was right here,” she said. “We had our school, a movie theatre, doctors, attorneys, stores, beauty shops, restaurants, barbershops. It was wonderful.

“There was the spirit of the village, and village elders and grandmothers guided the children. Integration made us think the white man’s ice was colder than our own. And today, we’re still looking for that ice that’s colder than 32 degrees.”

According to Elmore, the film explores at length how a teenage Elvis Presley spent time in Orange Mound, “just hanging out with the guys,” especially when African-American entertainers were in town. Presley came to see the likes of Count Basie, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton and W.C. Handy.

Pro basketball great Dennis Rodman’s father, Philander Rodman, was a 1959 graduate of Melrose High School. (Courtesy photo)

Pro basketball great Dennis Rodman’s father was a 1959 graduate of Melrose High School. Smokey Robinson’s mother lived in Orange Mound, and Robinson always called Orange Mound “home” in many interviews.

Orange Mound produced a nuclear physicist, Lila B. Smith, a Melrose graduate in the class of 1953. She still lives in Orange Mound and captures the spotlight in the documentary. 

“There is so much proud history, so many people who made an indelible mark on the world were born and educated right here in Orange Mound,” Elmore said.

The history of Melrose High School and the Orange Mound community have long been subjects of research for Mitchell

“I called Sports Illustrated to verify what I thought was true,” said Mitchell. “Melrose High School has more NFL players than any other high school in America. That’s something to cheer about.”

Elmore documents in the film that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. loved coming to Orange Mound to be with “his people.”

Elmore has encouraged Memphis-Shelby County Schools to plan viewing events around the documentary when it is released online.

Mitchell says the film will provide enjoyment for the whole family.

“This is our story, but in a sense, it is everyone’s story,” said Mitchell. “I call it ‘a sacred place’ because it took the blood, sweat, and tears of our people to build Orange Mound. It is our land. It is our legacy. We want the world to know our story.”

Elmore scheduled a limited release of the film on Wednesday (March 2) at the Malco Theatre on the Square in Overton Square.

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