(Above) Looking north on North Gloster Street, Tupelo, Mississippi on September 1, 1948. This was Highway 45 and 78. The hill at the top is where Gloster and McCullough cross today.
This is the same road the Presley family traveled when they left Tupelo for Memphis in 1948. Tom's Peanuts is in the same spot today.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1948 MONDAY
The Presley's loaded their green 1939 Plymouth coupe and left Tupelo for good. Elvis Presley, thirteen years old, puzzled by the sudden departure, nonetheless accepted the change. The imperative
behind the Presley's move to Memphis was actually made somewhat more smooth by the same factor that really caused it, however: the moonshine whiskey business. "We were broke, man. We just left overnight. Things had to be better", Elvis Presley on poverty.
The majority of moonshiners were in it for strictly personal consumption, and the local authorities usually turned blind eye in that case. But their sight suddenly improved if you attempted to turn it into a business, like Vernon Presley.
Tupelo had a mayor and a prosecutor, but the sheriff ran things and was free to make certain decisions. He decided to give Vernon Presley a choice, either go back to jail for several months
or leave Tupelo for good. He told Vernon he was a disgrace to the town, just the rest of his relations. He told Vernon to get the hell out and never come back. If he does come back, the sheriff promised to put Vernon in jail without a second thought, so what
choice there got?
After moving to Memphis, via Highway 78, Elvis Presley returned frequently to visit his many close friends and relatives in Tupelo. John Grower, manager
of Tupelo's Lyric Theater, later recalled that Elvis Presley participated in the theater's Saturday morning talent shows. One song that Elvis Presley reportedly performed was Hank Williams' 1949 hit, "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It". By 1949, the Presley's were
residents of Memphis, where Elvis' musical education would soon move into high gear. Elvis Presley strummed his guitar and watched the landscape change from rural to urban the closer they got to their destination. Cotton fields gave way to industrial smokestacks
spewing bad-smelling fumes, and the road became crowded with cars. Elvis felt his heart sink as the crowded city came into view, the life he had known was over forever. (Howard DeWitt says in his book they left September 12, 1948, Peter Guralnick argues for
November 6 and that Elvis knew ahead of time).
made their permanent move to Memphis in the weekend on September 12, 1948. Elvis' initial school enrolent the eighth-grade, was at Christine School, an Catholic institution on Third Street. Vernon Presley later recalls that shortly after walking Elvis to school
on his first day, the boy reappeared at home "so nervous he was bug-eyed". The Presley's waited nearly two months to send Elvis to Humes High School, apparently in order to make sure they got settled first, because Memphis school system records indicate that
Elvis' first class was November 8, 1948.
Their determination to see Elvis Presley educated was for Vernon and Gladys Presley one shared passion, and it had set them apart
from most of other sharecroppers who thought kids only needed to know the basics of readin' writin', and rythmetic before going to work in the fields full time. Vernon sat with Elvis through the whole registration process, then left when classes were about
to start. No sooner had he returned home than Elvis returned home, too.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1948
Vernon and Gladys Presley had debated their future. It was difficult for Vernon Presley to find work, and they had moved from one small house to another for more than a decade. Although Vernon Presley made small sums of money selling moonshine whiskey,
it was just not adequate - by itself - to support the family. Having had at least some success working in Memphis during World War II, Vernon Presley ultimately came to view it as the promised land.
As the Presley's drove into Memphis in 1948, there were also indications of a social and economic renaissance. The black and white stores and the local cress' had lunch counters open to blacks, and there were signs of progress in employment,
education, and entertainment. Blacks were key consumers in Memphis, and it was just good business to appeal to their needs. The Memphis Commercial Appeal covered black events with dignity and grace, and there was little evidence of media discrimination.
The newly arrived Presley's were initially unaware of the full scope of Memphis' musical underpinnings - Beale Street, rockabilly, WDIA radio. It was natural for them to gravitate to the
part of Memphis that locals called "Little Mississippi", which was filled with people who had migrated from small northern Mississippi towns. It was also not long afterwards that Elvis Presley discovered Beale Street and WDIA radio.
The year 1948 also marked the radio debut of Dewey Phillips, whose radio style virtually defied categorization. He was a white disc jockey from rural Tennessee who later hosted the show "Red
Hot and Blue".
During this same time period, Colonel Tom Parker has become one of the top managers in the country music field, with his sole client, Eddy Arnold, enjoying
five number-one hits in 1948 alone. Parker persuades Arnold at this point to quit the Grand Ole Opry for more lucrative show-business opportunities, including - in the next year - television exposure, a Las Vegas booking, and motion pictures. Parker himself
receives an honorary colonel's commission in October from Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, a noted country singer in his own right, and henceforth will employ the title, first as a kind of joke, later as if it were his legitimate due.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1948 SUNDAY
Having no specific destination, Vernon Presley drove to downtown Memphis.
In the heart of the city, prosperity and enthusiasm surrounded them. Every other car they passed was shiny and new. Clean, shoplined streets were filled. Unlike, sharecroppers who trudge their way through life, these city folk walked with a spring in their
step. Even breathing was easier, the air free of choking dust. As he watched the purposeful movement and felt the energy, the pain in Elvis Presley's chest temporarily eased. Maybe his mother was right. Maybe Memphis was a promised land of opportunity.
After on a lunch of cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes, Vernon Presley set out to find his family a place to live. At first they were awestruck at the stylish house nestled on neatly manicured
streets; the thought of living in such splendor made them dizzy. But their high hopes were rudely snatched away by harsh financial realities. The neighborhoods that most appealed to them were way beyond their means and out of reach. By nightfall, they were
fighting crushing discouragement, and a shroud of despair settled on Elvis Presley. The neighborhood had a rough, city feel to it and wasn't a safe place to walk around alone at night.
On this early morning, the Presley family resumed their search and with each passing hour, the weary family moved on to increasingly dingier neighborhoods until they finally found an apartment, they newly arrived Presley's rented a room in a boarding
house located at 370 Washington Avenue, and Vernon Presley quickly walked down to one of the seven beer bars on nearby Poplar Avenue, along with Gladys' brothers, Johnny and Travis Smith. The Smiths had also moved their families - along with Grandma Minnie
Mae Presley - to Memphis, and were working at Precision Tool Company on Kansas Street in South Memphis, where Gladys' brothers Travis and Johnny are working, while looking for better housing. The Presleys also joined the First Assembly of God church at 1085
McLemore Avenue. In October of 1948, Gladys began working as a seamstress for Fashion Curtains. While this improved the family's finances, the work was hard and stressed Gladys physically and emotionally.
Elvis Presley spent the next days in a daze, hoping the empty feeling would stop hurting. Nothing put him at ease. While it was true their new apartment was nicer than the shacks they'd lived in before, it didn't feel like a home. In
Tupelo, Elvis Presley had always been able to escape outdoors and feel free in the open flatland, or clear his head with the sweet, heavy smell of a summer night. Now, instead of a front yard, there was a concrete sidewalk and a busy street clouded by exhaust
fumes and the acrid discharge of nearby factories. No more lying on the grass watching the sun set over lazy farmland, they were surrounded by the ugliness of city industry. But, the musically Sun of Memphis, waiting for him.