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Heritage Tours told to vacate ‘Handy House’ after 24 years

THE NEW TRI-STATE-DEFENDER — Situated on the east end of the Beale Street Entertainment District, the house is where a young William Christopher Handy lived at the turn of the century. A letter from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) informed Turner that the operating services of Heritage Tours would not be part of the Handy home’s future. Heritage had been the operator for 24 years.

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By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to the New Tri-State Defender

Heritage Tours, which principal operator Elaine Turner describes as the state’s first African-American-owned tour company, no longer is overseeing the blue-and-white shotgun house that reflects the meager beginnings of W.C. Handy, renowned as the “Father of the Blues.”

Situated on the east end of the Beale Street Entertainment District, the house is where a young William Christopher Handy lived at the turn of the century. A letter from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) informed Turner that the operating services of Heritage Tours would not be part of the Handy home’s future. Heritage had been the operator for 24 years.

The letter – forwarded to Turner on January 2 – floored her. She had until February 2 to completely vacate the property, as possession was being taken by the DMC.

The DMC letter simply stated: “After much discussion, we’d like to inform you that we will no longer require the services of Heritage Tours, Inc., as operator of the W.C. Handy Home & Museum as of February 2, 2019.”

Jennifer Oswalt, president and CEO of DMC, told The New Tri-State on Tuesday that the changeover move was a matter of economics from Beale Street Management’s standpoint.

“For the significant capital investment we are making in repairs of the house and courtyard, we felt that it was the best decision going forward as we work on devising plans to increase awareness of the house and visitors,” said Oswalt.

“Also, we are responsible for reporting on the condition of the property to Mr. Handy’s grandson, and we felt we could best do that if we were in possession of the property.”

Jon Shivers, who sent the letter to Turner, also informed her that DMC was in compliance with the 30-day notice for terminating the agreement with Beale Street Management. The letter advised Turner to acknowledge receipt. Turner said she made numerous calls to Shivers and left messages, with no indication of a response.

Turner also was instructed to make an inventory of everything inside the museum, determining what belonged to Heritage, what the Handy family owned, and which items belonged to Beale Street Management.

Turner reached out for two Memphis City Council members: Martavius Jones and Joe Brown.

“When Mrs. Turner called me, I told her to write them a letter,” said Brown.

Why, and why now? It’s the same way sharecropping is done. Black people are used like animals to work the land, but they get no reward from it. Mrs. Turner initiated that whole project, and now, it’s just being taken away. Just, ‘get out and we’ll take it from here.’ It’s just not right.

Turner wrote Shivers on January 29.

“I have made several attempts to reach you by phone after the receipt of your letter,” her letter read. “This letter (to vacate) comes as a total shock since we have been in frequent communication with you, and there was no indication that you had other plans that did not include Heritage Tours.”

She ended her letter with a request for a meeting that she never got.

For Councilman Jones, the issue of respect – and the manner in which Turner and Heritage were dealt with – matters.

“I don’t know how or why the Downtown Memphis Commission feels they can run Handy House better than Elaine Turner and Heritage House,” said Jones. “I was talking about Beale Street Management from the first day I got here (on the council). They have no experience whatsoever in running an entertainment district.

“They are learning on the job just like anybody else. And then, was it done in a respectful way? I think that’s a very good question to ask the Downtown Memphis Commission. Do they feel this process was done in a respectful manner?”

In a timeline detailed in her letter to Shivers, Turner asserted that in 2017, DMC reached out to offer assistance with upkeep. In November 2018, DMC informed her that they had received money from the city and would send a contractor to begin work on repair of a busted water pipe behind a wall and the resulting water damage, Turner wrote in her letter.

In December of 2018, DMC sent a photographer to Handy House for photos to add to the Beale Street website. On January 2, two weeks later, Turner received the vacate letter with the notice that the DMC was taking over the operation.

“That’s what the plan was all along,” said Brown. “All of this construction and new projects downtown don’t include us. Black businesses get 22 percent set-aside for contracts when we are 76 percent of the population. …They are taking everything we’ve got. Look at what they’re doing to Tom Lee Park.”

Oswalt said Beale Street Management is not cutting Turner out all together.

“We look forward to collaborating with Heritage Tours and other tour companies on how we can move forward together.”

Heritage Tours moved out of the W.C. Handy Home & Museum property on February 10.

“We’ve tried to keep Handy’s legacy alive,” Turner said. “We have the W.C. Handy Heritage Awards every year at Handy’s birthday. …We’ve tried to keep that name in the forefront.”

The date Heritage was given to move out fell during African-American History Month.

Said Turner: “Can you believe it?”

(TSD Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku contributed to this report.)

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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