Heritage Tours, Tennessee’s first African-American-owned tour company, is back in place as the operator of the W.C. Handy Home & Museum on Beale St.
Earlier this year, Heritage, which had operated the site for 24 years, was directed to vacate the property by the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). Elaine Turner, the principal operator of Heritage Tours, said her company complied on Feb. 10.
At the time, DMC officials noted the “significant capital investment” of Beale Street Management regarding repairs and said the move away from Heritage was “the best decision going forward” as plans were devised to increase awareness of the house and visitors.
Under the new agreement unwrapped this week, Heritage Tours will lease the property for the next 15 years for $1 a year. A “Grand Reopening” of the site is set for noon on Saturday (Aug. 10).
Situated on the east end of the Beale Street Entertainment District, the blue-and-white shotgun house is where a young William Christopher Handy lived at the turn of the century. It stands a monument to the meager beginnings of man known as “Father of the Blues.”
The New Tri-State Defender broke the story about the decision to remove Heritage tours as the operator.
“We want to thank the Tri-State Defender for running the story and letting everyone know what was going on,” said Turner. “We’re just so grateful that we were able to work things out with the city, and we want the entire Memphis community to come out and help us celebrate our return home.”
DMC President and CEO Jennifer K. Oswalt said, “We are very excited about the future of Handy House and the potential for Heritage Tours to share this piece of history with even more people. …
“We have completed major work to the interior and exterior of the home and believe the public will truly enjoy the renovations. We share the enthusiasm Heritage Tours has for the property.”
Turner said The New Tri-State Defender’s story prompted calls from people in the community asking what they could do to help. “It was just wonderful to know that people cared. Also, I had supporters in city government who were instrumental in getting us back into the home.”
City Councilmen Martavius Jones and Joe Brown were among Turner’s most vocal advocates, along with State Rep. Barbara Cooper. In a letter to Oswalt, Cooper wrote, “I know you are doing everything in your power to keep Beale Street operations legal and safe. …Please correct what is needed and…return Handy House to Heritage Tours…”
Mayor Jim Strickland got involved after the eviction.
“I am so pleased that we were able to come to a resolution and I would personally like to thank Dr. LaSimba Gray for helping to make it happen,” Strickland said. “Heritage Tours has long managed the Handy House, and moving forward, I know they will continue to promote the legacy that makes the Handy House the great treasure that it is.”
Turner said the involved parties “had a few points which needed to be ironed out, and we went back and forth until everything was worked out. It feels good to be going home. Operating Handy House is a labor of love. The Handy name is synonymous with Memphis. Its legacy must be preserved, and we will continue to share its history and significance.”