As of the census of 2000, there were 897,472 people, 338,366 households, and 228,735 families residing in the county. The population density was 1,189 people per square mile (459/km²). There were 362,954 housing units at an average density of 481 per square mile (186/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 48.56% Black, or African American, 47.34% White, 0.20% Native American, 1.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.20% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. 2.60% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 338,366 households out of which 34.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.80% were married couples living together, 20.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.70% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.18.
In the county, the population was spread out with 28.20% under the age of 18, 9.70% from 18 to 24, 31.10% from 25 to 44, 21.00% from 45 to 64, and 10.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.80 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $39,593, and the median income for a family was $47,386. Males had a median income of $36,932 versus $26,776 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,856. About 12.90% of families and 16.00% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.90% of those under age 18 and 13.30% of those age 65 or over.
Shelby County Courthouse, located in Memphis on Adams Avenue between North 2nd and North 3rd Streets, was designed by James Gamble Rogers and completed in 1909. This Neo-classic pile features a long portico topped by a cornice supported by massive Ionic columns. The ambitious sculptural program executed by J. Massey Rhind includes the pediment groups, Canon Law, Roman Law, Statutory Law, Civil Law and Criminal Law. Female allegorical figures can be found on the north facade cornice representing Integrity, Courage, Mercy, Temperance, Prudence and Learning. Flanking the main entrances are over life sized seated figures embodying Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace and Prosperity. It is also featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs as the place where Dr. Hannibal Lecter escapes custody.
Some portions of unincorporated Shelby County are zoned to Memphis City Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Some portions of unincorporated Shelby County are zoned to Shelby County Schools for elementary and middle school and Memphis City Schools schools for high school.