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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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RETROSPECTIVE: What We Learned in 2017


WE LEARNED: Eight years isn’t long enough.

Seems like decades ago now, but it hasn’t even been one year since Barack and Michelle Obama moved out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. We paid tribute to the Obama presidency, especially stops that President Obama made to Booker T.

Washington High School and Michelle’s visit to St. Jude. In 2007, many Americans never imagined living long enough to see an African American president. Ten years later, we’re left to reminisce on eight years of a historic presidency.


  • TVA announced a new power plant that raised concern about water safety.
  • TSD interviews Lynn Evans, Chair of the TVA Board of Directors, the first African American woman and Memphian to hold the position.
  • Dr. Willie W. Herenton calls for action at Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.


WE LEARNED: Not everyone was welcome at City Hall.

Months after the I-40 Bridge shutdown, some activists were unknowingly added to a list that required that they have a police escort during visits to City Hall. Mayor Jim Strickland said the list preceded his administration and that he knew nothing about it.


  • A Memphis toddler makes an adorably cute update to “Cupid” for Valentine’s Day.
  • Former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton III, once an Obama judicial nominee, stepped down.
  • We profiled Shantelle Leatherwood of Christ Community Healthcare Services.


WE LEARNED: Sixty-five years of publication is nothing to sneeze at.

To celebrate our 65th anniversary, The New Tri-State Defender hosted “Legends & Leaders,” a gala aimed at praising Memphis’ trailblazers and shining a light on up-and-coming community leaders.  


  • Did we find W.C. Handy’s first piano?
  • Priscilla Presley: “Elvis was not prejudiced in any way.”
  • Larry Dodson announces retirement from The Bar-Kays.
  • We profiled Otis Sanford and his fascinating book on Memphis political history.


WE LEARNED: Playing for the Memphis Tigers ain’t what it used to be.

After one season of playing for Tigers’ Head Coach Tubby Smith, homegrown star players (and brothers) Dedric and K.J. Lawson announce that they would be taking their talents to Kansas. Their departure helped fuel fan speculation that the program no longer can attract and retain top talent. However, with a roster of relative unknowns, Smith has guided his team to a 9-3 record so far this season — undefeated at FedExForum.


  • Former Grizz Head Coach David Fizdale made national headlines with his “Take that for data!” postgame rant.
  • Memphis City Council disbands Beale St. Tourism Development Agency.
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson adds his support to CME Healthcare Center.


WE LEARNED: Who Ell Parsons was — and why he mattered.

In 1917, an angry mob took Ell Parsons out to Wolf River and burned him alive for a crime he did not commit. In May of 2017, a marker went up at the site of Persons’ lynching — to pay honor to his memory and to bring attention to how brutal and horrific lynchings were.  


  • Memphis native shines a light on sex trafficking in the Mid South.
  • TSD honors Women of Excellence 2017.
  • The TSD interviews Shelby County Schools Supt Dorsey Hopson.
  • Memphis in May BBQ Fest serves as one team’s bridge from grief to good times.


WE LEARNED: That we really can survive without electricity, refrigerators and air conditioning.

With Memorial Day on the horizon, a massive windstorm uprooted trees and disrupted power to thousands of MLGW customers. While some neighborhoods got power back within a day or two, other areas — particularly Frayser — were without power for more than a week, just as temperatures were hovering in the 90s.  


  • Gun violence took the life of a two-year old child, helping to amplify calls for the shooter to turn himself in and for Memphians to tackle violent crime.
  • TSD writers Lee Eric Smith (best column) and Brittany Gathen (best youth writer) brought home national NNPA awards.
  • Larry Dodson wows in farewell show as lead singer of the Bar-Kays.
  • One Memphian celebrates 104th birthday.


WE LEARNED: Z-Bo was bigger than basketball — MUCH BIGGER.

“Black hole on offense.” “Locker room cancer.” These phrases were used to describe Zach Randolph when he joined the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009. But Z-Bo won games — and hearts — with his old man game and “blue collar player in a blue collar town” approach. And he didn’t stop there: Randolph routinely donated to charity, annually paying MLGW bills for the poor. Though he now plays for Sacramento, Z-Bo will always be No. 50 for the city.  


  • The TSD looked back a year later at the I-40 shutdown with an interview with activist Frank Gottie.
  • The Southern Christian Leadership Conference hosted its national convention in Memphis.
  • The 1968 Sanitation Workers were awarded additional funds for their retirement.


WE LEARNED: Angry white men with torches are a thing again.

As the #TakeEmDown901 movement was gaining momentum in Memphis, white nationalists marched in Virginia. Rev. Carlton Smith, of Holly Springs, Miss., was in Charlottesville to stand up against the hatred and gave us a harrowing account from the front lines — including how he and others barricaded themselves inside a church for protection.  


  • After Hurricane Harvey drowned Houston, TSD freelancer Dalisia Brye reached out to help.
  • The Masqueraders fulfilled a dream deferred by performing on “America’s Got Talent.”
  • The National Civil Rights Museum hosts dialogues on race.
  • Local teacher develops African-American history curriculum.


WE LEARNED: The Southern Heritage Classic actually involves a college football game.

There’s a fashion show, a parade, and a coach’s luncheon. There’s a battle of the bands and two concerts packed with old school R & B artists. There’s tailgating and more tailgating. And somewhere toward the end of the weekend, Tennessee State and Jackson State meet on the gridiron to actually play a game. SHC founder Fred Jones Jr. set out to create Memphis’ own little version of Super Bowl week. After 28 years, it’s clear that he’s created the biggest and longest block party in the city. Oh yeah, and there’s football.  


  • Tony Allen signs with the New Orleans Pelicans, ending the “Core Four” era of the Memphis Grizzlies.
  • The new TSDMemphis.com is launched.
  • After a critical commentary by former TSD publisher Bernal E. Smith II, Memphis City Council Chair Berlin Boyd withdraws from a controversial Beale Street business deal.
  • TSD hosts Best In Black Awards.


WE LEARNED: Love the people in front of you like there is no tomorrow.

Shock. Sorrow. Disbelief. When TSD Publisher Bernal E. Smith II died unexpectedly on Oct. 22, it sent shockwaves through our newsroom and throughout the Mid-South. In addition to his duties at the TSD, Smith was known for being an outspoken advocate for Memphis, its people and its youth. His untimely death is a reminder to cherish the time you have with those you love.  


  • Memphis native Myron Howell gave a chilling account of being on the scene as gunfire rained on a Las Vegas country music festival.
  • Royal Studios celebrated 60 years of memorable music.
  • Debate over “instant runoff voting” heated up, with dueling opinions on the matter in The TSD.


WE LEARNED: Winning isn’t enough to keep your coaching job.

Months of friction between Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale and star center Marc Gasol came to a head when the team abruptly fired Fizdale and elevated J.B. Bickerstaff to interim head coach. For those of you counting at home:

Lionel Hollins after Western Conference Finals — DISMISSED.

David Joerger after three playoff appearances — FIRED.

Fizdale (50-51) — FIRED. Bickerstaff — ?


  • Police found murder weapon in Lorenzen Wright case.
  • Black farmers lobby the Department of Justice to uphold lawsuit settlement
  • TSD publishes #PositiveWhilePOZitive, a series of stories about Memphians living with HIV/AIDS.


WE LEARNED: Apparently, Sherra Wright uses a wheelchair now — she was wheeled in to face charges in her ex-husband’s murder. And downtown real estate with Confederate statues is remarkably cheap.

The first break in the Lorenzen Wright case came when police announced they found the murder weapon in a Mississippi pond. After that, the dominos fell faster — first with an arrest of Billy Hunter, and weeks later, the arrest of Wright’s ex-wife Sherra — who is still resisting extradition from California.

Meanwhile, using some rather sneaky (but legal) maneuvering, the City of Memphis sold two city parks — featuring controversial statues of Confederate heroes Nathan Beford Forrest and Jefferson Davis — to Memphis Greenspace for $1,000 each. Within hours, moving trucks had loaded the statues up and carted them off. #TookEmDown901

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