Just months after graduating from Rhodes in 2017 with a degree in history, Brooks Lamb landed a publisher for his book about the historic park located across from the college. Overton Park: A People's History will be released by the University of Tennessee Press in November.
The park has a thriving zoo, an old-growth forest, a concert venue, an art museum, and multiple playgrounds, but it is the people of Memphis who give it character, according to Lamb. The book includes stories and memories from his interviews with those who have experienced Overton Park first-hand, whether defending it, fighting for desegregation of its facilities in the 1960s, or just enjoying its spaces.
Lamb interviewed a score of Memphians—from civil rights activist Johnnie Turner and famed Memphis attorney Charlie Newman to U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, from artist Martha Kelly to retired zookeepers Kathy Fay and Richard Meek—to learn what the park has meant to them.
Lamb began writing Overton Park his sophomore year at Rhodes while serving as an intern with the Overton Park Conservancy and now says all profits from the sale of the book will be donated to the organization. He conducted the interviews and wrote the book, filled with historic photos, with the assistance of the Bonner Scholarship and a fellowship from the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies.
“When I started interviewing people,” Lamb recalls, “I didn't expect to discover so many rich and moving stories. They, along with the powerful photos that people shared, help bring the story of the park to life. Because so many people in the community believed in this project—people like author and filmmaker Willy Bearden, who kindly shared hundreds of historic photos with me— the book is able to offer an intimate glimpse into Overton Park’s past and present.”
Lamb received the prestigious Truman Scholarship in 2016, which is granted to U.S. college juniors for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service. After graduating from Rhodes, he worked as an intern for the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., as a part of the Truman Scholarship’s Summer Institute program. Currently, he is conservation manager (rural lands) for The Land Trust for Tennessee and works with landowners to protect agricultural and environmental communities across the state. He also meets with civic organizations, contributes to outreach efforts, and speaks with state and local officials about land conservation issues. Lamb plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the near future.
“The incredible opportunities, resources, and support that Rhodes offers enabled me to turn a far-fetched idea into a published book, one that will hopefully help communicate the importance of Overton Park and of places in general,” says Lamb. “Rhodes encourages students to explore their passions, cultivate relationships with professors and peers, and serve others. And more importantly, the college backs up this encouragement with action. Whether in regard to the book, my vocation, or my personal life, Rhodes has been instrumental.”
On Nov. 27, Lamb will return to campus for a discussion about Overton Park and a book signing. To learn more about the book visit here.