What Racial “Progress” Looked Like In 1959 Tennessee

Published January 19, 2015
Updated January 8, 2015

Negro Day Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo opened its doors exclusively to African Americans one Thursday in 1959. Thursday, or “Negro Day”, was the only day of the week that African Americans were allowed to visit.

The relatively “peaceful” image seen here belies a much more turbulent context: that year, Fayette County officials refused to allow blacks to vote in the Democratic primary, which led the federal government to sue the Federal Democratic Executive Committee. This was the first lawsuit of its kind filed under the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Less than ten years later, and as Tennessee schools began to integrate, Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated in Memphis.

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