As the day wears on, the crowds at the Southern Heritage Classic tailgate get bigger and bigger and more and more joyful. Many people have a really good time without ever going inside the Liberty Bowl.
Tiger Lane is named for the University of Memphis Tigers, but by an odd coincidence, the Southern Heritage Classic pits the Jackson State Tigers against the Tennessee State Tigers, so it’s appropriately named for the event. The gates open to tailgaters at 8 AM on game day, and the place becomes something like a small city, with tents, stages and recreational vehicles everywhere, and the sounds of music and the smells of barbecue drifting over the whole area. Many of the parties hire DJ’s for their day of fun, and every once in a while, a tent will have a live band. And although this year’s weather was hot, there were plenty of vendors with things like Italian ice or snow-cones to cool you off.
Saturday was the day the Ku Klux Klan was coming to Memphis to protest the city’s decision to rename three Confederate-named parks including one that honored the founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest. Because the last Klan rally in Memphis back in 1998 had ended in tear gas, vandalism and violence, a number of community groups organized an alternative event called Heart of Memphis at Tiger Lane near the Liberty Bowl, with food trucks, live music, events for the kids and workshops. Unfortunately, the same rains that disrupted the Klan rally downtown also made a washout of the Heart of Memphis event. The music stage had to be moved indoors, and attendance was hindered by the weather. But workshops were held, including the Peoples’ Conference on Race and Equality sponsored by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, which had my friend Dr. Coby Smith as a panelist, and Mayor Wharton briefly spoke. My friends from the I Am Memphis clothing line were also there, as were the good folks from Rock N Dough Pizza.