The Legacy of 87 Adams

Our Mission

To uncover the story of enslaved people who were bought and sold in the shadows of historic churches in Downtown Memphis. To seek healing by honoring the thousands of lives traded at 87 Adams. To reckon with the legacy of slavery, ask how it shapes our community today and how such a reckoning can guide us to a more just society.

Our History

Our efforts began eight years ago when the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis spotlighted a misleading 1955 Tennessee Historical Commission marker at this location. The marker noted that Forrest’s “business enterprises made him wealthy,” failing to clarify that this enterprise was human trafficking and enslavement. Local Civil War history professor and church member Tim Huebner engaged his Rhodes College students in researching the names and stories of enslaved people who were sold here. Their research estimates that 3,800 enslaved individuals were sold here.

This scholarship expanded our understanding of our church and our city as a regional hub for the slave trade, with this market and multiple others operating along Adams Avenue. In 2018, members of our coalition collaborated to erect a new marker at this site, unearthing this history and holding a memorial service to remember the lives of those sold here. We began the process of envisioning a lasting monument that aimed at revealing the full story, correcting historical inaccuracies, and fostering a space of reflection, learning, and dialogue.

Our Future

This initiative aims to illuminate the long-hidden stories of enslaved people who were bought and sold in the heart of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Positioned directly across the street from the County courthouse–just steps away from the altar of the historic Calvary Episcopal Church–a future memorial and accompanying archive will uncover the stories of people sold here and the people in power who purchased them. This ground was once the site of a slave market run by slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Now paved over for church and courthouse parking, its haunting legacy has been largely whitewashed–its history further distorted by a Christopher Columbus statue that stood here for decades. Our coalition of local faith leaders, racial justice advocates, scholars of African American history and Reconstruction scholars, and lifelong church members is deeply committed to confronting the violent past of this place. We aim not only to surface a history long repressed and in need of healing at this site, but also to tell the truth about the systemic injustices perpetuated in these sacred spaces, to create a space for collective remembrance, and to lay the groundwork for city-wide reconciliation and healing.