Tom Lee Memorial.

Tom Lee, Deemed Worthy by Monument

Field review by the editors.

Memphis, Tennessee

Tom Lee was a black roustabout. Alone in his little motorboat, he was the sole witness when the riverboat M.E. Norman capsized in the Mississippi River on May 8, 1925. He could not swim, but Tom nevertheless piloted his skiff into the wreckage, again and again, to save a total of 32 people.

The city hailed him as a hero. He was taken to Washington to meet President Coolidge. The survivors bought him and his wife a furnished house and gave them food and gifts every Christmas. Memphis set Tom up with a job as a garbageman.

Tom Lee Memorial.

Tom died in 1952. Two years later, the city renamed its riverfront park Tom Lee Park, and erected a tall obelisk in his honor. "A Very Worthy Negro," the memorial declares. "His good deeds were scattered everywhere that day and into eternity."

A freak windstorm toppled the obelisk in 2003. Seizing the opportunity, the city built a new, less embarrassing Tom Lee memorial, and shifted the old obelisk to the north end of the park. To its credit, Memphis didn't throw the old monument away, but it did bolt a big brass plaque to its base, "ERECTED 1954," so everyone would know it was out-of-date.

A second freak windstorm toppled the obelisk again on May 27, 2017, smashing it to pieces (The city evidently never anchored the new obelisk securely). The base, with its inscription, remained undamaged.

Tom Lee, Deemed Worthy by Monument

Address:
S. Riverside Drive, Memphis, TN
Directions:
On the north 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 monument and park will be on the right.
Admission:
Free
Save to My Sights

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