Martha Park is a writer and illustrator from Memphis, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Granta, Ecotone Magazine, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.
In 1925, Tom Lee—a black man who couldn’t swim—saved 32 white people from a sinking ship in the Mississippi River. Memphis’s unfortunate attempt to honor him and the decline of his own neighborhood speaks to the city’s ongoing struggle to become a more equitable place.
Editor’s Note: As Americans reflect on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, visual storyteller Martha Park shares the story of local hero Tom Lee and the efforts of his descendants to keep his story alive.