I only went to Memphis once, and I left knowing there was much of it I hadn’t seen. It was 1998, and it must have been August, because the city was crowded with people there for the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. I was there for a conference about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. It was an odd coincidence, and one that made it fairly easy to tell conference attendees from the tourists who were there to celebrate or experience one of Memphis’ three major attractions: Elvis, Barbeque, and the Blues. They were all everywhere.
You weren’t out of the airport before you encountered all three in some form, and they were still there when you left, so you could take them home with you. (You could even — I was amazed to find out — order your barbeque at the airport and have it Fed-Exed home. Depending on how long your flight was, it might arrive before you.) Downtown, Elvis’ images and impersonators were in abundance. (I think every hotel may have had one of the latter.) You could stand in the street and be wrapped in the sent of barbeque and the sound of the blues. And that was just the block where my hotel stood.
The hotel struck me as particularly strange, given the subject that brought the conference to Memphis, and the communities many of the attendees served in the course of their work. I stayed at the Peabody Hotel on Union Avenue. (“Saw the ghost of Elvis, Down on Union Avenue, ” the lyric goes.) Almost as soon as I got there I heard about the ducks.
The Legend of the Ducks
The Peabody DucksThe tradition of the famous Peabody Marching Ducks began in 1933. Peabody General Manager Frank Schutt, an avid sportsman, and a friend Chip Barwick, returned empty-handed from weekend hunting trip in Arkansas. The two friends had a bit too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and decided to play a prank and put their live duck decoys (which were legal at the time) in the fountain in the hotel’s Grand Lobby.
Three English call ducks were placed in the fountain, and the reaction from hotel guests was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.
In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1991. The late Mr. Pembroke’s portrait hangs in the entrance to The Peabody, a luxury suite is named for him and a building in Peabody Place development is named Pembroke Square.
I witnessed the Duck March, and couldn’t help thinking about the people and communities who were the focus of the conference, people who had almost certainly never gotten the “red carpet treatment,” while watching the ducks waddle down the red carpet, amid the popping flashbulbs and oohs and aahs of the tourists. I saw the ducks, and I walked the streets of Memphis around my hotel, but I never saw who else walked in Memphis, or walked where they where they walked, or walked in their shoes.
As strange at it sounds, I thought about that trip to Memphis and the things I saw there, as I started researching what would turn out to be three hate crime cases for the LGBT Hate Crimes Project, involving people who walked in a very different Memphis, away from the tourist-friendly venues I’d stuck to during my brief sojourn there. It started with a name, one on a list of names emailed to me when I started this project, and — as is often the case — researching one story led to one or two more.
Ten years after my only visit to the city, three African American transgender women were victims of hate crimes — with two of them losing their lives — all within two years. The first of the three was Tiffany Berry.
Tiffany Berry went walking in Memphis. Not far, just outside her apartment building, but only to lose her life. And the man who killed her, he says, because she touched him? Until recently, he was walking about on $20,000 bond. (The amount that Berry’s mother said she spent to bury her child.) Then he killed his daughter. (Which should make him a candidate for another series on this blog.)
A man, out on a $20,000.00 bond charged with second degree murder, has now been charged with the murder of his daughter.
D’Andre Blake has been charged with first degree murder in perpetration of an aggravated child abuse for the death of Dre-Ona Blake.
An affidavit says at first the father told police the child died eating a bologna sandwich but after the medical examiner determined the child had multiple wounds, bruises and trauma, his story changed and he confessed.
According to police, Drake hit Dre’Ona Blake several times over a “potty training issue”.
The child died as a result of blunt force trauma Monday at Le Bonheur.
The few lines in this article and a few others were almost all the information I could find about his first victim. That may change, though, if what I’ve read is true, and D’Andre Blake goes on trial this month or next for the murder of Tiffany Berry.
Tiffany Berry, a twenty-one-year-old African American transgender woman, was shot and killed by D’Andre Blake, in Memphis, TN, on February 16, 2006.
Berry, born Ray, lived at the Camelot Manor Apartments in South Memphis. Her friends say that she stepped outside for some fresh air on February 16. About that time, neighbors hear five gunshots.1)
Minutes later, Berry stumbled into the lobby of the apartment building, where she died moments later. She had been shot three times, in the chest. Investigators initially said the incident was a robbery gone bad, but Berry’s friends believed it was a hate crime because she still had her purse as well as the items in it.2)
D’Andre Blake, 20, was arrested and charged with second degree murder in Berry’s death. Blake was scheduled to go to trial for Berry’s murder in December 2007, but that trial date was pushed back by the court and has not been rescheduled.3)
According to Blake’s family, Blake admitted that he had killed Berry because he did not like the way she had “touched” him. 4) Berry’s mother, DeAndra Swift, said she was told that Blake had tried to rob Berry in order to buy diapers for his infant daughter.
On July 28, 2008, at about 6:41 p.m., police received a call about child in distress at 1264 Turkey Run. When they arrived, they learned that the child — two-year-old Dre-Ona Blake — had been taken to Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.5)
Blake told emergency crews at the site that the child had started choking after eating a bologna sandwich.6) But officers at the hospital reported that she appeared to have suffered blunt force trauma. Her body was covered with multiple wounds, bruises, and trauma. The cause of death was ruled to be blunt force trauma. An investigation revealed Blake struck his daughter several times while trying to potty-train her.7)
Blake was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of his two-year-old daughter.8)