Memphis residents work to restore and strengthen Orange Mound community

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Orange Mound was the first black neighborhood in the country built for and by African-Americans.

“Orange Mound is a foundation of love,” said longtime resident Keith Leachman.

49-year-old Leachman has lived in Orange Mound his entire life.

“We got a thing called two round and three down. You got an O and you got an M so that’s orange and that mound,” said Keith Leachman

The neighborhood originally was made up of 982 shotgun houses. By the 1970s, Orange Mound had one of the largest concentrations of African-Americans in the United States besides Harlem.

“It’s still quite a magic place. Just because the physical conditions of a place change, that doesn’t mean the spirit changes,” said Orange Mound Historian Mary Mitchell.

Mitchell has been living in the community since 1936. She’s been appointed the honorary historian for Orange Mound by a former Mayor.

She said the first African-American doctor who graduated from UT was from the community, as well as the first African woman who was a jet pilot for the Army. She said it’s a community rich with history and purpose.

“Orange Mound was built on faith, family and fortitude and the spirits of those energies still connect now and it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” said Mitchell.

During the 80s and 90s there were high rates of drugs, crime and violence as a result of the poverty in the area, but there are multiple efforts in place by the Orange Mound Development Corporation to help strengthen the community.

There are programs to help to address blight and challenges to address the crime.

“We want to put together a comprehensive plan for a neighborhood watch organization to be the base. We want to get the community involved,” said Doug Session, with Restoring Orange Mound.

There’s also an effort led by Leachman for the past 15 years called Stop the Killing, Cut the Beef. It’s a challenge to cut down on the violence in the historic community.

“The challenge came to my heart and God said, when we change the Mound, we’re going to change the whole city, baby,” said Leachman.

The challenge was a 30-day challenge that Leachman said was a success. They said there are more challenges to come to help restore the historic area and add a new nonprofit to address the blight and crime.