In Memphis, hopes and challenges of Black middle class collide

The two Hickory Hills sit on either side of 6100 Winchester Road. 

On one side is New Direction Christian Church, a ministry central in community organizing. Here, in a building deeded by a closing retailer, 1,000 residents worship each Sunday.

On the other is the Hickory Ridge Mall, once home to 100 stores but now nearly vacant. Inside, elevator music plays from loudspeakers like a call eternally on hold. 

Why We Wrote This

Tyre Nichols was beaten in Hickory Hill, once a magnet for Black middle-class families seeking a suburban life. Now, it’s hanging on, pointing to the forces that affect such neighborhoods’ ability to thrive.

The intersection is only a few miles away from Power Center Academy, one of the city’s best charter schools. And it’s only a few miles away from Castlegate Lane, a street surrounded by two-story brick homes, tidy lawns, and cul-de-sacs, now marked by a shrine of flowers. It’s where police fatally beat Tyre Nichols.

Hickory Hill is a sprawling area in southeast Memphis where middle-class life and managed decline line up on the same block. The contrast, sometimes feeling like two different neighborhoods altogether, speaks to something more systemic: the challenges many Black middle-class communities face around the country.

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