Robert Church Sr.
PHOTO: Pink Palace Museum

ROBERT CHURCH

 
Robert Church Sr. was born a slave but by the end of his life had become the South's first African-American millionaire. After the Civil War, Church settled in Memphis and began buying and renting small apartments, eventually working his way to owning a saloon, restaurant and hotel.

In 1899, a time when black citizens weren't allowed to go into most white theaters and parks, he opened "Church's Park and Auditorium." This quickly became the cultural center for Memphis' African-American community, and among the people who appeared at this facility were President Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington and William C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues." A few years later Church was one of several black leaders who founded the Solvent Savings bank and Trust Co., the first black bank in Memphis in decades.