Community hopes historic college building on Vance Avenue can be saved

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 MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The city of Memphis has been home to many historic moments and figures but one landmark is in danger of being erased.

For now, the old Griggs College of Business still stands on Vance Avenue near Danny Thomas Boulevard. 

Emma Griggs first opened Griggs College of Business back in the early 1900s out of her own home, before the school eventually moved into this building during the 1950s, under the leadership of Rev. Clifton Gaston.

It was one of the first black-owned colleges in the Mid-South, offering classes that would allow young adults to improve their futures, creating a small, tight-knit group.

“We was like a family, like people say a village,” remembered Carrie Tippett-Herron, Class of 1967. “We were attending the school and taking classes to get better jobs.”

The curriculum offered courses like typing, secretary work and even manners in the workplace, but as the world changed, enrollment became harder to find. The building was eventually boarded up in the mid-’80s.

It has stood abandoned for more than 30 years, but the foundation and original sign for Griggs College of Business remain — living pieces of Memphis history.

“That is a part of Memphis history that we don’t even hear about now,” Tippett-Herron said. “Yet, it’s an important part of Memphis.”

But the building and the historic memories it still holds might be in danger. 

Local developer Stephanie Wade has been intrigued by it for years and eventually began asking around the real estate comunity.

She’s been told that it’s under contract to be demolished, and the owners are looking to convert it to a gas and service station, potentially erasing this historical landmark.

“What we need is to learn and pay homage to our legacies, and use that as motivation to keep moving forward.” Wade said.

The Shelby County Assessor lists the Snowden Circle Church of Christ as the owner, but when we visited, church leaders told us they didn’t know about any ownership for Griggs College, or plans to convert the building.

If plans are being made for the property, it appears to be happening by an individual not listed on county documents. For now, Griggs College of Business still stands, a beacon hope and equality from an era that suffered from segregation and discrimination. And some are hoping it stays up for good.

“There is a legacy here that people can still learn from and share and feel empowered because of everything they accomplished to make it possible,” Wade said.

A group is being formed to potentially buy and renovate the building.  Wade is also putting together a documentary about Griggs.

 “We need to let our children know where we come from and how far we’ve come,” Tippett-Herron said. “To me, it would mean a lot to this neighborhood, to this area. It would mean a lot.”

More info

For information on the Griggs College documentary, call 901-609-6027 or email griggslegacyproject@gmail.com

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