The onset of World War I came as a surprise to many Mid-Southerners, yet, like much of the rest of the nation, Memphians joined the war effort with unprecedented determination. When the armed forces set up recruiting stations at the Tri-State Fair, able-bodied men lined up to enlist.
Citizens organized preparedness parades, and Memphis homemakers rallied to raise awareness about wartime rationing. Local mothers attended demonstrations on how to plan a menu for “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheat-Less Wednesdays.”
Jane Wright was a social pioneer in the early years of Memphis. Jane and her twin sister Eliza were born in Memphis in 1835 to Benjamin Wright, a member of a wealthy Quaker family of abolitionists. Their mother, Ann, was Benjamin Wright’s Afro-Indian housekeeper.
He took his two daughters and their mother to Cario, IL, to seek their manumission, to ensure their freedom. From Illinois, the Wright’s came back to Memphis where Benjamin owned a large plantation and a general store.
George Kelly Barnes was born in Memphis on July 18, 1885. He went to Idlewild Elementary and Central High School, living a comfortable and uneventful life. But when he went to Mississippi State University in 1917, his problems began.
His grades were terrible and he stayed in trouble with his teachers. He got married, had two children, dropped out of school, and got divorced. Things went from bad to worse. It was the era of prohibition and he found a career in bootlegging.
Many Americans are familiar with the name of Alvin Cullum York because of the 1941 film Sergeant York. What you may not know, however, is that his American hero was a native son of Tennessee, born in a log cabin in Pall Mall.
As a young man, York was a member of the Church of Christ. He initially declared himself a conscientious objector at the outbreak of World War I, but his petition was denied. The thirty-year old York found himself assigned to the 82nd division on the Western Front.