In May 1890, Izey Eugene Meacham purchased a tract of land from the John George Deaderick Plantation, divided the land into plots and began selling them to African-Americans. The community that formed was Orange Mound, a moniker earned from the mock orange trees that grew by the Deaderick plantation house. It was the first African-American community in Memphis, Tennessee.
With few opportunities for African-Americans in the late 19th century, Orange Mound residents came together to build their community. By the time Mary Mitchell was born in the 1930’s, a sense of pride was already present. Mitchell recalled many stories of neighbors helping neighbors, from doing odd jobs for each other to trading World War II ration stamps.
“If somebody in the community needed something done, it was just done because it was the loving, neighborly thing to do,” she said in an interview.
That sense of community is the driving force behind an initiative to have the Orange Mound community honored by a commemorative postage stamp for its 125th anniversary. An effort started by Mitchell’s organization, the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment, it now has the backing of a number of Orange Mound organizations, and it all started with yet another collaborative effort.
In 2014 several Orange Mound community organizations came together to host a table at the annual Neighborhood Redevelopment Conference. This is where Mitchell met Tiana Pyles, a board member with Orange Mound Community Development Corporation.
While working on ideas for the table, Pyles realized 2015 would be the 125th anniversary of their community. The idea for a commemorative stamp came up.
“Things were happening and it got tabled until Ms. Mary called me a few weeks ago and wanted to get a petition going,” Pyles said.
In the meantime, Mitchell contacted U.S. Representative Steve Cohen’s office in October 2014 to discuss the idea of the stamp. She said she was told showing a compelling interest in the idea was where to start.
To show that interest, Mitchell began an old-fashioned, pen-and-paper petition, which Pyles took online.
“She [Mitchell] gives me the idea and I basically run with it,” Pyles said. “That’s how we work.”
The goal is 2,000 signatures in a community of around 7,600 residents, but with the total of both petitions sitting at around 200, Mitchell and Pyles acknowledge they have a long way to go.
Both Mitchell and Pyles know that they won’t have a stamp ready this year, but they are hoping to at least have an answer to share with the community by May 2, the official anniversary kick-off celebration.
“It shows a collective effort of making something happen and actually seeing it happen and it makes you feel good,” Pyles said.
For Mitchell, it’s more than just a stamp, it’s a way to communicate the rich history of the community and the sacrifices the original Orange Mound residents made.
“It is my goal before I pass away to make sure that their work, their commitment, their grasp for freedom…is remembered,” Mitchell said.
According to information on the United States Postal Service website, subjects submitted for commemorative stamps must meet 11 major criteria and it is suggested to submit stamp requests three years in advance.
Congressman Cohen’s spokesman, Ben Garmisa, confirmed that Mitchell had contacted their office and a representative is helping to walk Mitchell through the process.