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Memphis History

First inhabited by Chickasaw Indians, Memphis was subsequently settled by Europeans in the 1700s and named after the capital of ancient Egypt. The city soon became a major market for cotton, lumber and—notoriously—African slaves. After the Civil War, the city became a center for the burgeoning black middle class. Tragically, many were wiped out during a series of yellow fever epidemics, during which the wealthier city residents fled to other cities. The city languished during much of the 20th century, as its major industries went bankrupt or moved overseas. Downtown decayed, buildings lay abandoned. In the 1960s, the city was a hotbed of the Civil Rights movement. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum. These days, Memphis is getting back on its feet, rebuilding much of the crumbled downtown and welcoming a steady stream of sightseers.