T.O. Fuller State Park, the first park east of the Mississippi River and the second in the nation to be open to African Americans, is named in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, who spent his life empowering and educating African Americans. Fuller was a former North Carolina legislator and Baptist minister who came to Memphis as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Memphis, on famous Beale Street.
The land for the park once belonged to wealthy Memphian Enoch Ensley, one of the original directors of Union and Planters bank, and the first president of Memphis Gas and Light. He used slaves and, later, convicts to work the land. In the early 1900s, Dover Barrett bought the land for use by tenant farmers. The flood of 1927 washed away the plantation home and stockade. The Civilian Conservation Corps bought the land for the express purpose of building a state park for African Americans and spent five years building facilities there. In the course of its work, the CCC unearthed Chickasaw relics that led to the creation of Chucalissa Village in 1962, declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
The village includes a mound, replicas of temples and home, a museum and a theater. Today, the park contains wetlands and campgrounds in South Memphis, mostly consisting of 1,138 acres of forest land that still looks much the way West Tennessee did before 1950.
T.O. Fuller State Park is the only state park within the city limits, one of the few locations within the city suitable for wildlife. Visitors here can see the dams and families of beaver that created the pond east of Mitchell Road. Hikers on the wetland trail can see red-ear sliders, red-tailed hawks, northern cricket frogs, blue herons, king snakes and more. Sometimes, there is a glimpse of the tracks of bobcats, deer, coyote and turkeys. Amenities at T.O. Fuller State Park include sheltered picnic areas, tennis courts, swimming pool, basketball courts, softball field, six miles of hiking trails, and camping facilities.
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