MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The W.C. Handy Home and Blues Museum at Beale and Fourth remains closed as management issues are ironed out.
Elaine Turner and her black-owned business Heritage Tours have run the Handy House for the last 24 years.
“We began immediately when we started our tour company showing that house when it was brought to Beale Street …,” she said.
They brought in tour groups, and even held events to honor blues musicians. It was a reflection of W.C. Handy himself, a blues great.
“Of course they were always excited to see that little shotgun house that belongs to W.C. Handy, the father of the blues,” Turner said.
But on Jan. 8, she says she got an unexpected notice from the Downtown Memphis Commission to vacate management of the house by Feb. 2.
“Receiving that notice was really a shock to us. We had no communication that this was in the foreseen future at all,” Turner said.
She says there was never any discussion with Beale Street management, city officials or members of the Downtown Memphis Commission. Turner also says she never got a direct answer why their work was ending, but says she heard another manager had already been brought on board.
“Someone else was going to move in,” Turner said. “That person would be salaried. We have not been paid any salaries, any money for maintenance. We have not been paid anything for being there. We have assumed all the financial responsibility for over 24 years.”
WREG contacted the Downtown Memphis Commission president and asked for an interview.
Jennifer Oswalt emailed us back saying, “I really don’t think there is much of a story here. We are currently repairing the water/sewer to the home and installing ADA access. We are negotiating new terms with Heritage Tours to operate the W.C. Handy Home and Museum once repairs are completed.”
Turner believes those negotiations only came after she went public with Heritage Tours being pushed out, and supporters started questioning the move.
Her concern now is whether the offer the commission made to financially support new managers will apply to Heritage Tours to make the museum successful.
Oswalt told us she does not want to comment while they are in the middle of negotiations.
She says repairs at the Handy House should be complete April, and they hope to come to an agreement with Heritage Tours soon.