Ever heard the phrase “in high cotton”? It means “to be very successful” or “doing well”. We can certainly say that the city of Memphis was in high cotton from the beginning–both literally and figuratively! On this episode of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, Heit & Cheri tell you all about their visit to The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, sharing interviews and highlights of the tour and artifacts at the site.
Topics discussed include the economic and cultural history of Memphis, history of the Memphis Cotton Exchange and the Cotton Museum, Cotton Museum tours and exhibits, the cotton industry, cotton grading, the Memphis Cotton Carnival, the historical importance of cotton to Memphis’ economy, the gene gun, the Monsanto Resource Room, the museum’s walking tour, the museum’s local artists program, and more!
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- Discussion about Heit & Cheri’s visit to The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange.
- What is The Cotton Museum?
Since its founding in 2006, the Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange has attracted more than 50,000 visitors and established itself as the most important national museum devoted to cotton.
Memphis is the largest spot-cotton market in the world and, for generations, the historic Cotton Row district that surrounds the museum was the center of the worldwide cotton trade. Museum highlights include video footage, oral histories, artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of cotton and its impact on our region and the world, as well as a self-guided audio tour of Cotton Row.
In 2010, the museum has expanded to include an educational wing with hands-on, interactive exhibits and a permanent classroom.
- Vanessa Clemmensen explains the history of the Memphis Cotton Exchange.
- The exchange was a member’s only club consisting of white men.
- The museum is located on the trade floor of what used to be The Cotton Exchange. This is where the historical side of the artifacts in the museum are located.
- The other side of the museum consists of the industrial side of cotton in a more hands-on way.
- Discussion about the Cotton Inc. logo. Anyone can use this logo because it’s the traditional cotton logo.
- The prices on the trade floor of the museum reflect the actual prices that cotton was traded for back in the day. It reflects the original look of 1937.
- Discussion about cotton being the center of the industry in Memphis. Memphis was a good shipping port because of its location on the Mississippi River.
- Discussion about the “members only” aspect of the Cotton Exchange and how people were shut out of economic success.
- Discussion about what causes these cities to grow where they do? In the case of Memphis, it was the cotton.
- Discussion about the importance of understanding all parts of history.
- Discussion about all of the things that are made of cotton–money, clothes, etc.
- The museum bridges the gap between the culture of memphis–like the Blues and Soul–and the economics. On yesterday’s show Episode 219: Stax On Deck, we discussed The Stax Museum of American Soul, so be sure to check that one out.
- The museum has lots of artifacts, videos, and audio. Heit comments that he loves to view the artifacts. Cheri loves the replicas.
- Discussion about Cheri telling Heit to look at an old switchboard while they were visiting the museum.
- The museum tour is self-guided, so you can do as much or as little as you want to do.
- Discussion about cotton grading.
- The museum had a lot of focus on slavery and African American history.
- Discussion about the Memphis Cotton Carnival. Our Memphis correspondent, Toni, tells us more about the history.
The Cotton Carnival began in 1931 as an event to publicize the economic heart of Memphis – cotton. The carnival kicked off with the riverfront arrival of the royal court on a huge, grandly decorated and lighted barge. The entire city gathered along the river to attend the Royal Barge landing as fireworks exploded above. Then there was a grand night-parade down Main Street and a carnival midway with rides, games, sideshows, and food. But much of the carnival was devoted to Memphis society who held numerous private parties during this event.
Although not official, the Cotton Carnival was for all intents and purposes, a white only affair. In 1935 a Beale Street dentist founded what would become the Cotton Maker’s Jubilee. It opened with a big parade on Beale Street and ran concurrently with Cotton Carnival as a parallel festival.
When urban sprawl began in the 60’s, downtown Memphis began to decline. Public events that were once staged by the Cotton Carnival became few and far between. Parades slowly became a thing of the past. Also, other festivals began to form that became more popular than Carnival, such as the Memphis in May festival.
Eventually Carnival became nothing more than a series of formal debutante parties at private country clubs. Gone were the parades, fireworks, the midway, and the hustle of an entire metropolitan area. It took a long time, but Carnival officials finally grew more aware of the negative issues surrounding the event and they began implementing steps to bring outsiders into their realm. And they also began selecting local charities to receive monetary donations.
In 1980 the Cotton Carnival changed it’s name to Great River Carnival…and then to Carnival Memphis. In 1982 the Cotton Maker’s Jubilee merged with Carnival Memphis and is now known as Memphis Kemet Jubilee.
Source: Historic Memphis
- Discussion about the differentiation between the names The Cotton Makers versus the Cotton Traders.
- While at the museum, we met a woman named Tameika who brought her family to visit the museum.
- Discussion about the other side of the museum with the hands-on exhibit. Heit lifted a huge sack of cotton.
- Heit & Cheri played cotton trivia, and Cheri was the winner.
- Discussion about the GMO machine–the gene gun that shows you how DNA is inserted into seeds.
- Discussion about the Monsanto Resource Room at the museum. Most of the time you hear about Monsanto and genetically modified foods, so the idea of them being involved in cotton probably doesn’t cross most peoples’ minds.
- This hands-on area of the museum allows you to see and touch the cotton plants, as well as see all of the products made from cotton.
- Discussion about the museum’s local artists program. They actually display artwork and books by local artists. They are infusing the culture of Memphis into their offerings.
- The people in Memphis were so friendly. We wanted to send a special thanks to Vanessa Clemmensen, Melissa Farris, and Anna Mullins for helping to make this
- Vanessa gives details of the walking tour, which is the last part of the experience of visiting the museum.
- If you’re in Memphis, please be sure to visit The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. For more information, please visit their website or call 901.531.7826. You can also check them out on Facebook!
The Cotton Museum
65 Union Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103
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