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The muddy Mississippi rolling past Memphis' front stoop has been the one constant throughout the city's many transformations. From its heyday as the largest inland port and cotton market in the South, to its decline during Reconstruction, to its current renaissance, Memphis has endured and prospered.

Memphis' roots were established by the Chickasaw Indians who settled on the high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. The first European to visit the area was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi in 1541. Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette followed, and in 1682 Ren-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the region for France. The first permanent structure, Fort Assumption, was built on the bluffs in 1739.

After passing through British hands, the territory was ceded to the United States, and in 1819 Andrew Jackson helped found and name the settlement. Thinking the Mississippi River resembled the Nile, the founders called their new town Memphis, place of good abode, after the city in Egypt More »

The muddy Mississippi rolling past Memphis' front stoop has been the one constant throughout the city's many transformations. From its heyday as the largest inland port and cotton market in the South, to its decline during Reconstruction, to its current renaissance, Memphis has endured and prospered.

Memphis' roots were established by the Chickasaw Indians who settled on the high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. The first European to visit the area was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi in 1541. Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette followed, and in 1682 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the region for France. The first permanent structure, Fort Assumption, was built on the bluffs in 1739.

After passing through British hands, the territory was ceded to the United States, and in 1819 Andrew Jackson helped found and name the settlement. Thinking the Mississippi River resembled the Nile, the founders called their new town Memphis, “place of good abode,” after the city in Egypt.

As river commerce developed in the 1800s, Memphis, with a good harbor at the mouth of the Wolf River, became not only a major port but also the largest slave-trade market in the central South. During the Civil War it was a vital link in the Confederacy's supply chain; in 1862 Union gunboats sank a Confederate fleet and seized the city, holding it for the remainder of the war. The city suffered from the lack of river trade during the war, but Reconstruction almost finished it by destroying the surrounding plantations and plunging the city into economic decline.

The yellow fever epidemics that followed the war were the final blows. Having lost most of its population to death or desertion, Memphis citizens were forced to surrender the city's charter in 1879. Nevertheless, the city slowly recovered. A decade later, its charter restored, Memphis was once again on its way to becoming a busy cotton market and lumber center.

The distinct Southern flavor and history of Memphis are embodied in the blues—melancholy ballads initially composed and sung by slaves. At the beginning of the 20th century, music legend W.C. Handy developed this American art form in PeeWee's Saloon on gaudy Beale Street. “Memphis Blues,” the first blues ever published, along with “St. Louis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues,” earned Handy the title of “the father of the blues.” In 1977 Congress honored this musical heritage by declaring the city “Home of the Blues.”

In the 1950s Elvis Presley, now known simply as “The King,” rode into stardom on a wave of rhythm and blues. Studios moved to town, and fans and fortunes followed. Another King drew national attention to Memphis, but on a sadder note. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel cast a shadow that has been slow to fade. “The Mountain Top,” a massive steel sculpture at the north end of Civic Center Plaza, honors the civil rights leader.

As a metropolis for Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, Memphis has been called the capital of the Mississippi Delta. Its residents take pride in the city being the largest in the state as well its being a busy inland port and a large spot-cotton market. Its multimillion-dollar Everett R. Cook Convention and Exhibition Center, modern skyscrapers, expressways, large suburban areas and the Memphis International Airport substantiate the city's importance as a commercial center.

Memphis Medical Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are leaders in medical care and research. Christian Brothers University, with an enrollment of 2,027; the 20,000-student University of Memphis; Rhodes College, with a student body of 1,400; and the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences make the city an important educational center as well.

Despite its development Memphis has retained the slow, unhurried approach to life characteristic of the South. Although the blues is a natural product of this setting, the city has a healthy sense of humor. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Peabody Hotel, a dignified Memphis landmark that refuses to take itself too seriously. Twice daily, five ducks carry out a time-honored tradition as they march to and from the lobby fountain along their own red carpet to the robust marches of John Philip Sousa.

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