Celebrating 45 Years of Pride in Memphis
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead
Gay Day in the Park
Pride was celebrated back as early as 1976 with "Gay Day", a picnic in Audubon Park that was covered by a local publication at the time, Gaiety Newspaper.
The First Gay River Cruise
The picnic was followed by the first of many gay river cruises held on the Memphis Queen II Riverboat.
The June 1980 cruise was promoted as "Party on the River, a Gay Cruise on "The Queen II"" There was another cruise in the autumn billed as " Moon Light Madness". Guests were encouraged to wear costumes. The autumn cruises only lasted 2 years because it was too cold in October. A "National Coming Out Day" Cruise was held in 1990 and was never done again for the same reason.
The First March
The Original Route
The Movement Evolves
The Black Pride Movement
Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins, founders of DC Black and Lesbian Gay Pride Day as it was called in 1991, wanted to continue what had become a tradition in the Black LGBT community buy adding an important consideration – they were going to raise funds for organizations who provided services to Blacks/African Americans affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS, and disseminate important HIV/AIDS prevention information to attendees of the “Black Pride” event. Just over 800 people attended the first event to call themselves a “Black Pride”. Learn More
"Memphis Black Pride" was founded by Terrell Buckner who produced first Memphis Black Pride celebration somewhere in the mid-to-late 1990s. In 2018, Memphis Black Pride was passed down to Dr. Davin Clemons and rebranded as "Tri-State Pride". As more details become available, we will add them to the timeline.
Memphis Pride, Inc.
The time was ripe. In the autumn of that year, Memphis Pride, Inc., began organizing and spun off from its roots in MGLCC. The state charter was received in June of 1994.
The First Parade
There were no formal officers elected until the charter was received in June. The committee chair was Vincent Astor with secretary John Prowett and treasurer Tommy Simmons. All three of these individuals would figure in other Pride celebrations.
It was a long route, all the way from Madison and McNeil to Peabody and Cooper. The first theme, “Together With Pride” was printed on a souvenir bandana. Meristem and friends lead the Parade as the first honorary Grand Marshals. Since then, Grand Marshals have been selected for either personal community service or as a tribute. Live music was featured at the rally.
First Place winning float in first Memphis Pride Parade (photo above by Hunter Johnston) was presented by Tsaurus.
"It was a lot of work but we got it together by the time we started out we had a bunch of different professionals ..even a grandmother with her grandchildren such a fun day...much thanks to Matthew Presley...lol..I was dressed as a cop...the motor cycle cops kept coming up to see who I was too much fun" - Robert Hamby (aka "Skeeter")
Party With a Purpose
A Congressional Visit
The First Pride Flag
Bill Hanley, Chet Overstreet and Tommy Ross were the core committee behind its design and construction. It was simply but solidly constructed but after the first year it proved to be difficult to carry. By the 1998 parade it had grommets and rope handles but the sheer weight of the fabric put a lot of strain on the edges. This caused the flag to need constant repair.
Tim Sampson was invited to be Grand Marshal in the '97 parade, and a variety of age groups rode on the lead float. The T-shirt from that year was one of the most popular in the history of Pride; chairs were Chet Overstreet and George Ettinger.
A New Route to an Old Destination
Pride in Overton Square
Color Me Proud
Pride on the River
Step Up & Step Out
Memphis Pride Inc. - The Final Bow
What it takes is love of our hard-won freedoms, it takes commitment to the ideal which is LGBTQ+ Pride and it could take the faces of a thousand happy young people or the face of just one person who has finally been convinced that he or she is neither alone, nor perverted, nor damned.
So, let’s go have a Parade. And be gay.
Memphis Pride disbanded after the 2003 parade when Kay Mills retired and Patty Pair decided not to produce the event that year.
Mid-South Pride - A New Era
The first Mid-South Pride celebration was held on June 26th, 2004. The theme was "Show Us Your Pride".
The Sea-to-Sea Flag Debuts
In 2004, Baker had the flag divided up and given to Pride organizations across the country. A 100' section was given to Mid-South Pride, which made its debut in the Memphis Pride Parade in 2005. The Sea to Sea flag has been featured in almost every Memphis Pride parade ever since.
The Sea-to-Sea flag is easy to distinguish from the Memphis Pride flag because it has 8 stripes (including Pink and Indigo), whereas the Memphis Flag has the standard 6 stripe design. (Full Story)
The Founder's Flag Debuts
Later that year, the new flag was hand-built by Mike Morgan (who just happened to own an industrial sewing machine) and dedicated to the memory of founder, Gary Wilkerson who died unexpectedly that same year.
The new 100' / 6 stripe cotton flag debuted in the June 2008 parade and is now affectionately referred to as "The Founder's Flag". It is the official Memphis Pride flag and has been featured in every Memphis Pride parade since.
Grand Marshall, Peterson Toscano
Sean Alexander & Kent Hamson were still co-chairs at this time.
A Change of Season
Leadership also changed as Mike Morgan and Amanda Bolton became co-chairs. Jason Houston and Katie (Kody) Martin were members at large.
Farewell to Midtown
Also in 2010 the group got new blood with Vanessa Rodley, Patrick Pearson, and Jennifer Murry as volunteers. Tommy Simmons also returned that year to serve as Parade Director.
After the 2010 event, Mike Morgan took some time off and began passing leadership on to his then co-chair, Amanda Bolton.
The Festival was held in Robert Church Park, and for the first time in history, the Pride Parade was enjoyed by thousands of every-day Mid-Southerners as it made its way through the Historic Beale Street Entertainment District. The theme was "Pride by the Riverside" in reference to Pride's return to Downtown Memphis.
In this new, high-profile location, the festival grew from about 4,000 attendees to nearly 8,000. They also had the largest budget in their history. This was also the first year that pride closed out the season with a profit.
Changing of the Guards
Amanda Bolton became board President with Vanessa Rodley as Vice President, Jennifer Murry as Secretary, and Patrick Pearson as an at-large member. Making it a board of 6 which was the largest they had since they started.
Memphis Pride Fest
President Vanessa Rodley when asked why explained. "Mid-South Pride is more than the festival and parade. We organize and host many events in our community. Also, other cities and communities in Arkansas and Mississippi have started to host their own pride festivals. They are self-sufficient now, but of course we support them and we’re still here if they need us.
With that being said we feel that it is time to change the name to recognize the community that we live in and to communicate the fact that Pride is now a 3 day event with a pre-party “The Big Gay Dance Party”, and concert the night before, and the Sunday Brunch Crawl the day after."
Tracy Love was brought in as parade director and asked to form a parade crew that operated in collaboration with, but somewhat independently from the board. This would allow the board to focus more on the expansion of the festival and to plan and coordinate related events. Branden Gozell and Sandy Kozik became key members of the parade crew.
Return to the Riverside
The Parade route nearly doubled from previous years spanning from 4th Street to Riverside Drive. The team had to bring in golf carts and shuttles transport equipment, team members, parade judges and guests from Tom Lee Park to the middle of the Beale Street Entertainment district where most of the excitement takes place.
Due to a planned expansion and re-development of the Memphis Riverfront, Memphis Pride Fest would have to move back to Robert Church Park in 2019 & 2020. However, plans are to make Tom Lee Park the permanent home of Memphis Pride Fest once the renovations are complete.
The Mighty Lights
The Parade of Allies
Local officials estimated overall attendance to be in the neighborhood of 35,000 with crowds stretching from Robert Church Park through the entire Beale Street Entertainment District.
The 2019 Pride parade, which for the first time included the City Mayor (Jim Strickland), also broke records with over 2,200 participants and 103 units including church groups, high school & college groups, senior groups, performing arts groups, city employees, local non-profits, businesses and national brands. This was the first year that the parade director had to stop taking entries more than a week before the event.
Pride Goes Virtual
In spite of the unexpected change in format, the event was very well received by the community with over 30,000 views across the various platforms.
History in the Making
Stay Proud, Stay United and Stay Tuned! 🏳️🌈🖤❤️
How to Contribute
This story belongs to all of us, and we want to make sure it is as complete and accurate as possible. If you would like to contribute to this timeline, please send facts, photos, and supporting information to us for consideration.