By Wiley Henry | Published 12/10/2009
The Memphis Tri-State Defender
Arthur Webb’s History Finds A Place Of Honor
Arthur L. Webb used to talk about the history of Memphis and Shelby County and African-American ancestry with anyone who would listen. Few people – if any – could prove him wrong or challenge his command of the facts.
That’s because Webb, a respected historian, genealogist, entrepreneur and former Tri-State Defender associate editor, buttressed his arguments with more than 10,000 historical facts that he’d gleaned from a number of sources.
After Webb’s death on Oct. 25, 2006, his daughters – Christin Webb of Memphis, Christina Webb of Clarksville, Tenn., and Angela Webb-Irons of Los Angeles – thought it would be in the family’s best interest to donate Webb’s papers and genealogical database of more than 16,000 entries to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, where Webb had spent countless hours conducting research.
“Me and my sisters thought about it for three years since his passing, and thought it was the best way for his work to have the greatest impact,” said Christin Webb, who couldn’t keep from crying while recalling her father’s legacy Tuesday evening in the library’s Memphis and Shelby County room, where Webb’s material will be sorted and filed for future reference.
Christin Webb, who couldn’t keep from crying, donated her father’s 10,000 historical facts about Memphis and Shelby County and his genealogical database of more than 16,000 entries to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. Earnest Lacey, a friend of her father’s and fellow historian, offers support. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
“I look forward to bringing my daughter, who is two-years-old, to the library to pull up something on ‘Pa Pa,’” said Christin Webb, 28.
‘A historian in every home’
Jim Johnson, retired manager of the history department, said this is a story about a man who pursued truth: “He was a great ambassador and spokesperson for the city and county. He wanted to make sure he had the facts.”
“I wouldn’t have felt right not donating his papers and making them available to everybody,” said Christin Webb, who started the ALW Calendar Company last year to honor her father. (The Memphis 2010 Historical Calendar, an anniversary edition of her father’s Memphis 2000 Historical Calendar, will be published soon, she said.)
Arthur Webb and local businessman Frank Banks published African-American history calendars from 1993 to 1999, with 365 days of Memphis history on African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic descendents, along with 12 biographies of influential African Americans in Memphis and Shelby County.
In June of 2006, the Memphis City Council approved a $1 a year lease so Webb could erect a memorial in Union Park and Army Park in Downtown Memphis for African-American soldiers of the Union Army.
Approximately 10,000 of those soldiers were stationed at Fort Pickering Defenses of Memphis, which prompted Webb, then the executive director of the local Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, to build a database with ancestral links to Shelby Contians.
“As long as you think and speak of a person, that person still lives,” said Earnest Lacey, quoting an African Proverb
Lacey, also a genealogist, historian, speaker and author of “Joseph H. ‘FreeJoe’Harris,” said he had heard of Webb after moving to Memphis from Chicago.
“I wanted to know who Arthur Webb was,” said Lacey, whose search ended at the office of Frank Banks, where Webb had been working. After getting to know Webb, “he shared so much in my research that I had to do a book on my great, great grandfather, Joe Harris.”
He said Webb showed him how to glean information from the courthouse, where various records are kept such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, business enterprises and more.
“Arthur also believed that every family should have its own historian,” Lacey said.
Curtis Dillihunt, a longtime family friend and former senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Memphis Light Gas and Water, said Webb’s papers are a gift, not only to the city of Memphis, but to the United States as well.
“Most of the research he did was about Memphis and outside of Memphis,” said Dillihunt. “People in Chicago, Mississippi, Detroit and St. Louis — most of those people have relatives in Memphis and will be able to go online and research their ancestry.”
Keenon McCloy, director of the library system, said Webb’s legacy would live on.