The Lynching at the Curve
In March of 1892, business partners Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and William Henry Stewart were arrested for defending an attack on their store, The People's Grocery. The white competitor and the deputy sheriffs he hired were met with gunfire. Several deputies were wounded but survived. Nevertheless, Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were taken from the downtown jail by masked vigilantes, dragged to a deserted railroad yard in north Memphis and shot to death.
Memphis was thrown into a state of shock. Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were part of a thriving black community at "the Curve," where most attended the same church and belonged to the same lodges. Twenty-one-year-old Calvin McDowell was a member of the Tennessee Rifles, a black military organization respected for its service protecting the city during the virulent Yellow Fever epidemics of the 1870s.
Thomas Moss was one of the first black postal carriers in Memphis. Activist Mary Church Terrell, deeply affected by his murder, described "Tom Moss" as one of her best childhood friends. Thomas and his wife Betty were Ida B. Wells' closest friends. She was the godmother to their three-year-old daughter Maurine. Betty was at the time, expecting the family's second child.
The funerals of the three young men were held at Avery Chapel Church. Over 2,500 attended
the services. Afterwards, all three victims were interred at Zion Cemetery. Betty Moss fainted at the graveside of her husband.
Trying to make sense out of the horror, journalist Ida B. Wells traveled the South investigating reports of racial violence against blacks. Wells found that the real motivation for white mob violence was not rape but black economic progress. She first published her research in the pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases,
Zion Cemetery was founded by the United Sons of Zion in 1873. The last burials took place during the 1970s. The cemetery is the resting place for over 30,000 members of the historic black community in Memphis Overtime Zion was abandoned and neglected. In 1990 the Zion community project was established to restore and administer the site. Numerous organizations have contributed to its restoration: students from Kent State University in Ohio; Rhodes College and LeMoyne Owen College in Memphis; Sheffield High School in Memphis; and several local church and community groups like Fellowship Bible Church and Hands on Memphis.
The National Park Service marker is in keeping with the movement to document the history of lynching in America.