About 140 years ago, Memphis nearly ceased to exist. Fleeing a yellow fever epidemic, most of its 50,000 citizens abandoned the city. Depleted of population and tax revenue, Memphis gave up its charter.
The son of a slave and slave owner, Robert Reed Church had accrued wealth and influence in postwar Memphis. When the population fled, Church bought up devalued real estate, investing in the city and supporting repopulation initiatives. Reportedly, he was also the first citizen to buy a bond for $1,000, helping restore the city’s charter.
Church died in 1912 and is buried at Memphis Elmwood Cemetery.