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In 1977, the board of Memphis in May revived a downtown that had died along with MLK, Jr.

Something had to be done.

After Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis in 1968, a declining Downtown plunged deeper into a place of shame and solemnity.

“After King’s assassination, the business community just kind of went away,” recalled Lyman Aldrich, chief architect of Memphis In May International Festival who, at that time, was a young banker in the city.

“You had Time Magazine calling us a backwards river town, dismal downtown, no tourism, no national reputation and fractured race relations. …

“The Peabody was closed. … It went broke and was sold on the courthouse steps.”

To revive Memphis, Aldrich looked to atried-and-true local strategy: A party.

But unlike the parties that predated it, the Memphis in May International Festival hasn't stopped. 

That isn't true of Memphis Mardi Gras, which city leaders started in 1872 to lift it out of the doldrums of the Civil War, and Cotton Carnival, which was started in the 1930s to numb the pain of the Great Depression by celebrating Memphis' top commodity.

In fact, Memphis in May keeps growing.

This year, the festival will celebrate its 42nd year of saturating the streets of Downtown Memphis with music, barbecue scents and hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to indulge in one of the nation’s top festivals. 

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