Why Memphis Needs a New Park Dedicated to Tom Lee
By Kaelie Piscitello
Looking for a place to recharge during your vacation in Memphis, Tennessee?
Well, the birthplace of rock n roll is about to open a new green space called Tom Lee Park. The $61 million space set across 31 acres of land will open Labor Day weekend, September 3, 2023.
Fun fact: Memphis lacked a single park until the late 1880s when the city built Overton Park and Riverside Park.
Today, Memphis has over 150 parks spanning 5,600 acres of land filled with trails and playgrounds for people to relax and find peace within their weeks.
Tom Lee saved the lives of 32 people from the Mississippi River near Memphis when the M.E. Norman riverboat turned over on May 8, 1925. This act made Lee a local hero. He brought the survivors to shore with his small boat, alerted the authorities, and built a fire while everyone waited.
Memphis honored Lee 50 years ago by naming a small part of the riverfront after him in downtown Memphis. But, the city has decided this act was not nearly enough. In addition to the park’s namesake, Tom Lee Park will honor Lee through the Monument to Listening, a piece of art and memorial created by world-renowned artist Theaster Gates.
Tom Lee Park Opening
Tom Lee Park plans to open with a bang. The team constructing the park, Studio Gang and Scape, has prepared a day-long celebration to showcase black cultures.
On September 3, the Black Monks will play live music at Tom Lee Park, featuring improvisational pieces that mix spirituality, eastern ascetic traditions, and a rich sound.
Black college marching bands and “Only in Memphis” will also share their music with the crowds.
In addition to the live music woven throughout the day, the opening will hold an ecumenical blessing, a prayer hoping for the unity of the church, a ribbon cutting, learning activities for children, basketball, and fireworks.
In addition to beautiful grounds and scenery, the park will have many activities for visitors to engage with.
Several small businesses plan to open their doors there, including Vice & Virtue, a shop offering special coffee and charcuterie plates, and Paper Plate Pavilion, a food venue offering “creative park fare.”
The park has a basketball court designed by Memphis resident James Little that only adds to the delicious food options. The park will have a “sunset canopy” made of wooden beams for people to sit under if they feel hot outdoors. Tom Lee Park dedicates the Sunset Canopy to the late Tyre Nichols.
The park also offers the Buckman Classroom, an outdoor learning space for children to learn about the environment. The classroom will feature a pollinator lab, a wooden platform, and more ecological features.
The park hopes to make STEM more accessible for schools with less funding as it offers field trips focusing on the sciences in this space. The park stands six blocks away from the poorest zip code in Tennessee, making the learning space accessible for these children.
In addition to the grand opening event, the park plans to host many gatherings throughout the year, including yoga sessions, cocktail days, and concerts.
Things to Do in Memphis
Memphis is full of music. In addition to visiting Tom Lee Park, travelers can also stop by Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Visitors should also consider stopping at the Stax Museum of American Music and the Orpheum Theatre, and Sun Studio, a recording studio where Elvis and Johnny Cash made their names. They don’t call Memphis the birthplace of rock and roll for nothing!
In addition to the music-related activities, visitors also can choose to visit the National Civil Rights Museum, located a six-minute drive from Tom Lee Park. Don’t forget the fantastic southern barbecue! Stop at a barbecue joint to experience some of the local flavors.
Are you looking for a novelty? The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art contrasts with Memphis’ current population but provides scope for art lovers visiting the area.