updated 6/2/2004 3:52:03 PM ET 2004-06-02T19:52:03

No longer does 90-year-old Alma Roulhac Booth have the porch swing she and her brother pretended was a train taking them around the world. And she doesn't have the doll house where she had tea parties.

But she still lives in the house she grew up in. And now the 90-year-old house in South Memphis is one of the few black private homes individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I thought it was the least I could do. We could carry on the Roulhac (pronounced RULE'-ack) name with the house," said Booth, a retired educator and daughter of the prominent physician for whom the house is named.

The Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac House at 810 E. McLemore is one of only two historic black homes in Memphis listed on the register. The other is the Lt. George W. Lee House on Stephens.

"It's rarer than hen's teeth," said Judith Johnson, local historic preservationist who wrote the Roulhac listing application. It was accepted in April.

Johnson said many black private homes have become too dilapidated to qualify for a listing.

For example, the Dr. J. E. Walker House, which belonged to the founder of Universal Life Insurance Co., is on the state historic register. But it was too run down to qualify for a national listing. It is being renovated as a community resource center.

"Some of them are in areas of town where fortunes have been reversed and people just can't afford to keep them up," Johnson said.

"It was such an honor to find a house that still had the occupants in it."

The Roulhac House is a rarity, but its new status is a sign things are changing.

"Historic preservation, historically, has been such a well-to-do and affluent phenomenon. In the South that still often means smaller white communities," National Register historian Dan Vivian said.

During the first 10 or 15 years of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 the focus was on major political and social leaders.

"They were spent kind of nominating great white men's houses; big houses with columns on the front," Vivian said.

As historians became more socially conscious, they began examining the significance of average people, as well as minority and immigrant communities.

"That perspective opened up looking at a lot of properties," Vivian said.

The Roulhac House was built in 1914, the same year Booth was born. Her father bought the home in 1926 and was among the black professional residents who changed the neighborhood from predominately white to racially mixed by the late 1920s.

Roulhac had offices on Beale Street and at Universal Life where he was a medical examiner. He had been the physician and sports director for the athletic programs at the old St. Anthony's School and a trustee at the old St. Anthony's Catholic Church.

He practiced medicine for about 55 years. He died at his home of illness in 1965. He was 85.

Booth and her husband, restaurateur Philip Booth moved into the home to care for her mother, who died in 1975.

The two-story, four-bedroom, foursquare-styled home is gray with white trim with a rustic concrete veneer and Corinthian columns.

Booth remembers how much she wanted her father to buy the house because of the doll house in the side yard. She was about 12.

"That impressed me," she said.

It was a replica of the home, big enough to fit two girls having a tea party with their dolls.

"I used to get dressed on Sunday afternoon. Our mothers would make us lemonade," she said.

She also remembers how she and her brother pretended the porch swing was a train.

"We would pretend we were in different cities and jump off the swing at different places."

The Roulhac home is a block from another historic preservation project, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy.

As a former member of the West Tennessee Historical Society, Booth hopes to see more black history preserved to inspire younger generations.

"I think the fact that you came from just a little bit and you grow and you grow and you grow, we have accomplished a great deal and we have farther to go."


On the Net:

National Register of Historic Places,

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments