When Michael Jackson appeared on the roof of Woolco in Southgate Shopping Center in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1977, he had no idea that one day he would be wed to the daughter of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and that he would even vye for the King’s throne.
Then, Michael was not yet the beknighted King of Pop. In fact, he was more one of the Five, and not yet the grand amalgamation of pop cultural touchstones that he would become.
As the story has been told, the Jackson 5 were appearing that evening in concer and had just visited the South’s great R&B radio station, WDIA. Michael and his brothers were eager to please their fans, and that would mean going into the community to sign autographs. So WDIA planned a remote broadcast at a Woolco in the Southgate Shopping Center on South Third.
Although Woolco was selling Jackson 5 recordings, the manager of the store had never even heard of the group. As a result, nobody at this particular Woolco had anticipated what would happen when they opened the doors of the store despite the fact that the store was actually selling tons of their records.
Of course, hundreds, then thousands, of fans rushed in to meet the young pop icons. One estimate is that at least 10,000 people had been waiting in the parking lot to see the group.
The WDIA handlers decided to put the Jackson 5 on the roof for everyone’s safety.
Up there, Michael and his fans waved and dropped autographs down to the crowds. People were screaming one name: MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!
Many of the fans were angry because they had not gotten a chance to get close to the group. The enormous crowd gathered into a storm, and people began looting the Woolco store, completely cleaning it out. The store was torn apart.
Eventually the Jackson family paid for the damages.
One eyewitness who was present at the Great Michael Jackson Woolco Riot describes the event through a similar experience that occurred in Memphis in 1977:
“The best way to explain it is like when Elvis Presley died.
I was in Sessel’s Grocery Store as a sacker across the street from Graceland when people heard Elvis died. People stopped their cars in the middle of traffic in front of his mansion and got out and prayed.
People fell out in the aisles of the grocery store in tears. There were post cards with Elvis’ picture on them. People took them and walked out of the store with the post cards and put them on the store front glass. People took fruit, busted the glass out, never removing the photo from the glass, cutting themselves.
Traffic was backed up for five miles in 2 directions. You had to drive nearly 30-40 miles to get home when you would normally just drive 2 miles.
To say that people didn’t love Elvis those days was blasphemy.
Just today a young girl heard me playing Micheal’s music. She said didn’t I know he was dead and she thought he was a freak.
Someday as you grow older you will learn the very meaning of your words and how your very words can influence a world like his did. Because When Micheal died, I lost a friend, a friend that had lost his way.”
Woolco ceased operations in the United States in 1982. Michael died in 2009. Somewhere in between Michael Jackson became bigger than life.
Hey, he even married Dead Elvis’ daughter! Amazing!!