Bean and Prince Contractors Salutes Historic Black Memphian – Robert R. Church

Robert Reed Church, Sr., was a business leader, a philanthropist, and a millionaire. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on June 18, 1839, he was the son of a white steamboat captain, Charles B. Church, and a slave seamstress, Emmeline, who died when Robert was twelve years old. After being captured and freed by Union forces during the Civil war, Robert Church settled in Memphis, becoming a successful businessman, owning a hotel, restaurant, saloon, bank, park and auditorium. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt spoke to a gathering of 10,000 persons in Church’s Park and Auditorium. Musician and “Father of the Blues,” William C. Handy, was employed as the orchestra leader. When the yellow fever epidemic killed more than half of Memphis’ population of 16,000, the city had to give up its city charter in 1879. For $1,000, Robert Church, Sr. bought the first bond issued in an attempt to restore the city’s charter.

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