Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Memphis, TN

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) often visited Memphis, a Mississippi River city, during his piloting years, 1857-1861. His most traumatic visit occurred in June 1858, when a disastrous explosion aboard the steamboat Pennsylvania some sixty miles below Memphis put his wounded brother Henry Clemens, a third clerk on the steamboat, in a criminal court room hastily converted into a hospital. Twain rushed to Memphis and stayed with Henry until his death about a week later. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain recalled Memphis as the “Good Samaritan City.” He revisited Memphis, then a city of 40,000, in 1882, traveling as C. L. Samuel to avoid being recognized and not “fall a prey to the newspapers.” He described “a beautiful city” with “straight and spacious” streets, an excellent sewage system and fine residences.

November 7-November 8

Posts from Memphis, TN

Ernest Withers: Civil rights photographer and FBI informant?

I remember Ernest Withers of Memphis as a distinguished civil rights photographer, whose message to journalism students at Emory and Northwestern Universities, when I invited him to speak, was more spiritual than shutter-speed, f-stop practical. Shortly … Read more >>

Tri-State Defender celebrates its 60th anniversary of keeping the African-American voice alive in Memphis

We interview Bernal E. Smith II, publisher of the Tri-State Defender, the day before the Memphis weekly newspaper, which also serves nearby Arkansas and Mississippi, celebrates its sixtieth anniversary. Our conversation with Smith, which focuses on … Read more >>

Mark Twain and Elvis Presley: Blood Brothers?

Blame it on the music madness of Memphis—see Dan Tham’s videos of the marching-to-music ducks at the Peabody Hotel below—but a visit to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion, has me thinking that Mark Twain and Elvis the … Read more >>

Dwania Kyles talks about surviving the “N” word and more as one of the Memphis 13

A half-century has passed since Dwania Kyles, a wellness consultant in New York, made history as one of the Memphis 13, first-graders who desegregated the all-white public schools of Memphis. She has returned to Memphis for … Read more >>