Beale Street Dynasty
Book Talk with Preston Lauterbach
Thursday, August 15, 2019 • 6-8pm
National Civil Rights Museum
In observance of the city of Memphis’ Bicentennial year, author Preston Lauterbach will discuss his book Beale Street Dynasty, centering around the triumphant story of prestigious African Americans on Beale Street during the age of Jim Crow and their impact beyond Memphis – the brilliance of Robert Church, the courage and determination of Ida B. Wells, the genius of W.C. Handy, and more.
Beale Street Dynasty is the vivid history of Beale Street―a lost world of swaggering musicians, glamorous madams, and ruthless politicians―and the battle for the soul of Memphis.
Following the Civil War, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, thrived as a cauldron of sex and song, violence and passion. But out of this turmoil emerged a center of black progress, optimism, and cultural ferment. Lauterbach tells this fascinating story through the multi-generational saga of the Church family whose ambition, race pride, and moral complexity indelibly shaped the city that would loom so large in American life.
Robert Church, who would become “the South’s first black millionaire,” was a mulatto slave owned by his white father. Having survived a deadly race riot in 1866, Church constructed an empire of vice in the booming river town. He made a fortune with saloons, gambling, and―shockingly―white prostitution. But he also nurtured the militant journalism of Ida B. Wells and helped revolutionize American music through the work of composer W.C. Handy, the man who claimed to have invented the blues.
In the face of Jim Crow, the Church fortune helped fashion the most powerful black political organization of the early twentieth century. Robert and his son, Bob Jr., bought and sold property, founded a bank, and created a park and auditorium for their people finer than the places whites had forbidden them to attend.
However, the Church family operated through a tense arrangement with the Democrat machine run by the notorious E. H. “Boss” Crump, who stole elections and controlled city hall. The battle between this black dynasty and the white political machine would define the future of Memphis.
Brilliantly researched and swiftly plotted, Beale Street Dynasty offers a captivating account of one of America’s iconic cities―by one of our most talented narrative historians.
About Preston Lauterbach
Preston Lauterbach is author of the award-winning Beale Street Dynasty (2015), now out in paperback; The Chitlin Circuit (2011), a Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and NPR book of the year; and recently, Bluff City (2019). He’s a former visiting scholar at Rhodes College in Memphis and fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He lives near Charlottesville, Virginia.