Memphis T. Garrison was born in Hollins, Virginia but named for the city where her aunt worked as a teacher – Memphis Tennessee. She moved with her family to Gary, WV as a young child. She attended a one room schoolhouse in Ennis, West Virginia near Elkhorn. There were no public high schools near Gary, so Memphis went to high school in Ohio. In 1939, Memphis graduated from Bluefield State College in Bluefield, WV.
She was an activist for African Americans and young women during the Jim Crow Era in rural West Virginia. Memphis was a McDowell County teacher and community mediator, famous for organizing West Virginia’s third chapter of the Gary Branch of the NAACP in 1921. She was the community mediator for U S. Steel Gary Mines. Some of Memphis’ other notable achievements range from establishing Gary Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to organizing Girl Scout troops for African American Girls and creating a breakfast program for impoverished students during the Great Depression and finally to creating the Negro Artist Series.
Memphis Garrison was the National Secretary for the NAACP and founder of the Easter Seals. She was largely responsible for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.