Your correspondent experiences despair and discovers hope which he shares with Colonel John McLeod Keating, managing editor of the Memphis Daily Appeal during the 1878 yellow fever epidemic.
By G. Wayne Dowdy
Dear Colonel Keating:
It’s been a hard week. Sickness and death still stalk the land. In some places mass trenches are being dug to bury unclaimed bodies, just as Memphis did in 1878. Thank God Memphis has not yet experienced such a horrific death toll. May it be spared such a fate. The economy is also withering as thousands of citizens have lost their jobs.
I must admit that these events have left me with an overwhelming sense of despair. It grew worse when I learned that a cousin had contracted the virus. So many questions haunted my thoughts. Will other loved ones get sick? Will I lose my job? Will this unsettling time ever end? I recall that you too despaired when you wrote, “Hope, we have none.”
It was with a heavy heart I ventured out to continue documenting our city’s ongoing history. I drove into South Memphis and it was there I was able to shake the worst of my anxiety and find a renewed sense of trust in the future.
While in South Memphis I visited East Dempster Avenue. There my mother and uncles grew up at 609 East Dempster, and my brother, cousins and I spent time with our beloved grandparents. I parked next to the old house and got out of my car.
In the yard was a man playing with a toddler. From a distance I said hello, and he replied back. I told him that his house was full of such happy memories for me and he said how much he loved his home and family, and how quiet the street was. Walking back to my car when the conversation ended, I saw his little boy waving at me from the yard I once played in. As I smiled and waved back, I felt the worst of my unease lift. The kindness of that sweet little boy answered my most nagging question, ‘Will this horrible time ever end?’
Yes it will. It has to. For his sake and that of every other child in Memphis, America, and the world. Each of us must do all we can to make sure this virus is defeated so they can grow, play, learn, and spread joy to those who need it.
Well, that’s all I have for now but will write more soon.
your faithful correspondent
G. Wayne Dowdy
Memphis author and historian Wayne Dowdy is the Manager of the Main Library’s Memphis and Shelby County Room. He also writes for the local monthly publication Best Times and is the author of several books on Memphis history, including A Brief History Of Memphis, Hidden History Of Memphis, and Mayor Crump Don’t Like It.