"All aspects of [Beale Street's] complex, fascinating history are told…with verve and vivid erudition." —Wall Street Journal
Between Reconstruction and Prohibition, Beale Street in Memphis thrived as a strip with a unique soul that reshaped American culture. Preston Lauterbach recounts the rise and fall of Beale Street through the life of the South’s first black millionaire, an ex-slave who built an underworld dynasty in the booming river town and created a space for black culture to flourish. A thrilling narrative history, Beale Street Dynasty tells an intriguing, previously unknown story about race in an American city.
Music journalist Lauterbach (The Chitlin Circuit) brings the history of Memphis to life in this vivid reconstruction of its volatile history from the Civil War up to the 1940s, focusing on the celebrated center of sex, sin, and song: Beale Street. He weaves the development of Beale Street as an area of black cultural and political influence with the rise and fall of Robert Church the South's first black millionaire and his son, Robert Church Jr., both of whom played instrumental roles in vice and civil rights over the decades. Lauterbach also concentrates on the career of E.H. "Boss" Crump, who all but controlled the city's political machine for years, and touches upon a wide cast of colorful characters, such as W.C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues." It's an engaging, entertaining, and thorough history in its coverage of crime and politics, though, this being Beale Street, more attention to the city's musical history, particularly the blues scene, would have been welcome. Still, Lauterbach superbly handles the city's race relations and the black struggle for equality; and in addressing greed, violence, decadence, desperation, and change, he paints a wonderful portrait of a city in flux and a neighborhood's lasting, though oft-overlooked, legacy.