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Tom Lee Memorial.

Tom Lee, Riverboat Disaster Hero

Field review by the editors.

Memphis, Tennessee

Tom Lee, a black roustabout on the Mississippi, became a Memphis hero on May 8, 1925, when he saved the lives of 32 people from a capsized riverboat. But the monument that was erected to Lee, hailing him as "A Very Worthy Negro," eventually became an embarrassment. It fell over in a 2003 wind storm, and the city seized the moment to erect a new and much more fitting memorial to the hero.

Unveiled in 2006, the bronze monument by sculptor David Alan Clark shows Lee leaning out of his little boat to grab the hand of a helplessly flailing white businessman, clutching a scrap of wood in the water. The boat is on a pedestal at eye level, so that viewers can have a sense of what Lee must have looked like from the water, and it's illuminated at night by a circle of 32 lights, one for each person that Tom pulled to safety.

Tom Lee Memorial.

The monument unintentionally mimicked real life in May 2011, when the Mississippi River flooded so high that it completely submerged the pedestal. The boat really did look like it was afloat, with Tom Lee ready to haul in the mostly-submerged bronze businessman.

Tom Lee, Riverboat Disaster Hero

Tom Lee Park

S. Riverside Drive, Memphis, TN
On the south end of the main parking lot in Lee Park, which is between the river and S. Riverside Drive. Drive west on Beale St. until it ends, then turn left onto Riverside Drive and drive a half-mile. The statue and park will be on the right.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Lorraine Motel: National Civil Rights MuseumLorraine Motel: National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
Statue of ElvisStatue of Elvis, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
Beale StreetBeale Street, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Statue of Memphis Belle, Memphis, TN - 4 mi.

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