Soulsville Foundation Statement on Racial Equality and Civil Rights

Like many other organizations in Memphis, Stax Records held a special place in the struggle for racial equality, basing its company practices on the ideas of opportunity, economic empowerment, inclusion, and trying to affect positive change in the African-American community in Memphis and throughout the country.

In the wake of the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King, 17-year-old Memphian Elton Hayes, the 1965 Watts Riots, and other historic events during its time in business, Stax Records intentionally acted to maintain public safety while also giving its artists and others in the community the right to follow their own conscience in regard to their contributions to bringing about change.

Because the Soulsville Foundation is the only organization in the world dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of Stax Records through the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and educating and mentoring young people through the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School, all of our work is rooted in that legacy.

As a collective staff of more than 100 employees, we are deeply concerned and disheartened about not only the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, but also about the ongoing systemic racism that pervades all aspects of life for all black Americans, including most of the students we hold dear every day and many of our employees.

While we are still unable to gather physically because we’re following strict safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, our lines of communication among staff, students, families, and community partners are open. We continue to offer platforms for our students and staff to discuss their feelings, concerns, worries, and ideas for change. As we have throughout our history, we continue to share our philosophy  about opportunity, economic empowerment, inclusion, and trying to affect positive change. And while we realize the pain we are feeling at this moment is too intense for a simple solution, we are providing free mental wellness counseling to our students and staff if they choose to take advantage of that service.

On June 2, 2020, the Stax Music Academy is observing the music-industry’s nationwide Blackout Tuesday movement by ceasing to work for one day but using the time to reflect on our musical and Civil Rights roots and find ways to move forward in contributing to an end to systematic racism and inequality. It has also sharpened the focus of its weekly virtual songwriting challenge to urge its students, alumni, and any music students in the Mid-South to express their feelings by submitting their own interpretations of protest songs that are associated with a movement for social change.

The Soulsville Foundation also joined with more than 100 Mid-South nonprofits in June in sending an open letter to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and law enforcement leaders calling for 13 points of change, including police reform, banning chokeholds, releasing all arrested peaceful protestors, education reform, and actionable ways to combat poverty.

According to Soulsville Foundation President and CEO Richard Greenwald and Soulsville Foundation Board Chair James Maclin, “We realize that racial inequality is an epidemic in and of itself at a time when we are also facing a global health crisis. We hope that in keeping with the legacy of Stax Records, we can do our part to continue affecting positive change in the Memphis community and beyond.”

The Soulsville Foundation is a Memphis, Tennessee-based 501 (c) 3 organization that operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School, all at the historic original site of Stax Records in Memphis. Its mission is to perpetuate the soul of Stax Records by preserving its rich cultural legacy, educating youth to be prepared for life success, and inspiring future artists to achieve their dreams..