I am a fourth-generation Memphian and, as a child, heard some of the horrors described in “Epidemic” (October/November 1984).
For my paternal grandfather, as for so many, it was a very sad time. He had taken his family, including his recently married younger sister, from their Memphis home out to his father’s farm. My grandfather’s new brother-in-law was a doctor, and there was a great demand for his services. Like so many doctors, he remained in the city. Some time later word came to the farm that he was ill. Amelia, my grandfather’s sister, rushed to her husband’s side.
Some nights later a black man knocked on the door at the farm asking to speak to my grandfather. He was a former employee and knew all of the family. Like many blacks who had remained in Memphis, he had been drafted into digging huge trenches to dispose of the bodies stacked around the area. While throwing bodies into this common grave, he came upon my great-aunt Amelia and, a short time later, her husband, Dr. Dawson. He put them to one side. He then went to the man in charge and asked that they not be put into the common grave until my grandfather could be told. Telling my grandfather was another problem. The city was ringed by pickets to keep people out as well as in. Somehow this man had bypassed these outposts and had gotten to the farm, ten miles from the city.
After hearing his story, the family fed the man and put him up for the night. The next morning he joined my grandfather for a hasty buggy ride back to town. My grandfather had the bodies moved to a funeral home while he went to Elmwood Cemetery, where he bought a large family plot.