MEMPHIS READS: A Jewish Community in Memphis in A Biblical People in the Bible Belt: the Jewish Community of Memphis, Tennessee by Selma S. Lewis

Marilyn reviews A Jewish Community in Memphis in A Biblical People in the Bible Belt: the Jewish Community of Memphis, Tennessee, 1840s-1960s  by Selma S. Lewis. (Mercer University Press, 245 pages.

David Hart arrived in Memphis in the 1840s and was recorded to be the first Jewish resident in Memphis. Since then, the Jewish community has grown in leaps and bounds and has contributed greatly to the community in such capacities of businesses, education, government, medicine, and social services. In fact, Mr. Hart opened Hart’s Inn and Saloon in downtown Memphis.

Since Ms. Lewis has recounted the philanthropic efforts of the Jewish community until the1960s, it is likely her readers recognize several names and businesses that have left legacies. Many names in education, government, and medicine will be familiar but all are worth mentioning.

If you want to pursue your knowledge of the influence of the Jewish population here in Memphis, please consider visiting the Memphis and ShelbyCounty Room on the 4th floor (History Department) at Benjamin Hooks Library. You can also find plenty of information at Memphis. Dig Memphis is the Digital Archives of Memphis Public Library.

This is the scope of Ms. Lewis’ work that is integral to the collection:

      “The Selma Lewis Collection was given to the Memphis and Shelby County 

Public Library and Information Center by her daughter, Jane Lewis Ross in April 

of 2000.  The collection includes a wide range of newspaper clippings and 

correspondence, with some photographs and publications.  The greater portion 

of the collection is composed of local Jewish history and biographies.  Also 

included are manuscript copies of The Angel of Beale Street: a Biography of Julia 

Ann Hooks;  A Biblical People in the Bible Belt: the Jewish Community of 

Memphis, Tennessee, 1840s-1960s; and Lewis’ dissertation “Social Religion and 

the Sanitation Strike.”   She also wrote “Diversification and Unity, MIFA, 1968-

1988,” a study of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.  

      Also of importance are the transcripts of oral interviews with 

representative members of the African American community, which were 

conducted by Selma Lewis and Marjean Kremer in 1978 as part of the research 

for the Pink Palace Museum exhibit “Historic Black Memphians.”  These 

transcripts were given to the Library by Mrs. Lewis during her lifetime.  In 

summary, the collection provides significant information pertaining to the history 

and life of the Jewish and African American communities of Memphis.”