Memphis is a city in the southwest corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers.
Memphis has an estimated population of 670,100, making it the largest city in the state of Tennessee, the third largest in the Southeastern United States, and the 19th largest in the United States. The greater Memphis metropolitan area, including adjacent counties in Mississippi and Arkansas, has a population of 1,280,533. This makes Memphis the second largest metropolitan area in Tennessee, surpassed only by metropolitan Nashville, which overtook Memphis in recent years.
Memphis is the youngest of Tennessee's four major cities (traditionally including Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville). A resident of Memphis is referred to as a Memphian and the Memphis region is known, particularly to media outlets, as the "Mid-South."
Memphis was founded in 1819 by John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson. The city was named after the ancient capital of Egypt on the Nile River. Memphis developed as a transportation center in the 19th century because of its flood-free location, high above the Mississippi River.
As the cotton economy of the antebellum South depended on the forced labor of large numbers of African-American slaves, Memphis became a major slave market. In 1857, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was completed, the only East-West railroad across the southern states prior to the Civil War.
Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861 and Memphis briefly became a Confederate stronghold. Union forces captured the city in the Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, and the city remained under Union control for the duration of the war. Memphis became a Union supply base and continued to prosper throughout the war.
In the 1870s, a series of yellow fever epidemics hit the city. The worst outbreak, in 1878, reduced the population by nearly 75% as many people died or fled the city permanently. Property tax revenues collapsed, and the city could not make payments on its municipal debts. As a result, Memphis lost its city charter and became a taxing district, operating thus from 18781893 and was rechartered in 1893.
In the start of 20th century, Memphis grew into the world's largest spot cotton market and the world's largest hardwood lumber market. Into the 1950s, it was the world's largest mule market.
From the 1910s to the 1950s, Memphis was a hotbed of machine politics under the direction of E. H. "Boss" Crump. During the Crump era, Memphis developed an extensive network of parks and public works as part of the national City Beautiful Movement.
During the 1960s, the city was at the center of civil rights issues, notably the location of a sanitation workers' strike. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, the day after giving his prophetic I've Been to the Mountaintop speech at the Mason Temple.
Memphis is well known for its cultural contributions to the identity of the American south. Many renowned musicians grew up in and around the Memphis and Mississippi Delta. These included such musical greats as Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones, and Al Green.