1951 . Science exhibit at the 'Colored Tri-State Fair'. Booker T. Washington High students Sylvester Butler and James Wheeler.
African Americans had attended and participated in the Tri-State Fair well into the 1870's. Following the collapse of Reconstruction and the 1896 "separate but equal" legalized segregation, Memphis blacks and whites occupied two separate societies. In 1911, prominent African-Americans founded, organized, and ran their own fair called the "Negro Tri-State Fair". It was held at the Fairgrounds a few days after the white fair closed. This was an important event in the black community for decades. When the white fair changed its name to the Mid-South Fair in 1928, the black fair became simply the Tri-State Fair until it was discontinued in 1959. The Mid-South Fair was integrated in 1962.
Tri-State Fair . Mid-South Fair
Fairs have been held continuously in Memphis for 152 years - up to 2008 when the city wouldn't renew the lease of the Mid-South Fair. The first fair "Shelby County Fair" was staged in Memphis in 1856. It ran for two days. In 1858 attendance picked up and it ran for four days. This was the period when traditions were being started, such as harness racing, which would continue until the 1930's. By then the Montgomery Race Track had become a part of the fair's history. Between 1873-1877 attendance dropped dramatically because of the yellow fever epidemic. From 1880-1906 was a time of rebuilding after the Civil War.
In 1908 the fair as we know it was born and the name was changed to Tri-State Fair. The newly organized fair leased the grounds of Montgomery Park for five years. Since gambling had been outlawed in 1905, the racetrack had been mostly out of use. In 1912, the city bought Montgomery park from the Memphis Jockey Club, and from that date, The Fairgrounds Park was established. The Tri-State name change was a measure to entice more people around Memphis to attend.
In 1929 the name was changed again to the Mid-South Fair, and it was the main attraction in Memphis for many years. In addition to the traditional attractions associated with fairs, the Mid-South fair included a Carnival midway and rides, concerts, and a talent show. The fair was not only popular among people in the Memphis area, but also those in adjacent cities in Tennessee, as well as neighboring states of Mississippi and Arkansas. In 2008 when Memphis wouldn't renew the lease, the Mid-South Fair moved to northwest Mississippi.