Historic Town Squares in two West Tennessee communities experienced an increased number of visitors last month. Every Tuesday in February, Heritage Tours, along with the Memphis Area Association of Governments (MAAG), hosted the West Tennessee Heritage and “Roots” Day Trippin’ Bus Tour. The first ten seats booked on each tour were free, thanks to a grant from the Tennessee Department of Tourism.
Nearly one-hundred individuals including elected officials, members of civic and senior groups, students, and church groups joined the West Tennessee Heritage and “Roots” Day Trippin’ Tours during the 2014 celebration of Black History Month. The tours, which highlighted the rich heritage and literary accomplishments of African Americans in West Tennessee’s history, departed from the Visitors Center on Riverside Drive along the banks of the Mississippi River. Sites in Memphis including the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, the W. C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum, Beale Street Historic District and other sites were highlighted, before traveling to Henning, Tennessee along a portion of the Great River Road Trail. In Henning, heritage enthusiasts toured the Alex Haley House Museum & Interpretive Center, the boyhood home and final resting place of the Pulitzer Prize-Winning author of “Roots”, and the gravesites of Chicken George and other relatives at Bethlehem Cemetery.
“This tour was an eye-opening experience for many of the guest who didn’t know the stories of African Americans who helped preserve this region of the country by rescuing the city of Memphis, “says Pamela Marshall, Executive Director of the Memphis Area Association of Governments. “Culture and Heritage Tourism give us a gleam into the American story, creating pride and leaving you with the desire to learn more. We are encouraging everyone to learn more and experience the many stories that help to create America’s history through the unique attractions across the West Tennessee Region… all within a day trip of Memphis.”
The West Tennessee excursions continued up the road to the newly renovated Ripley Historic Downtown Square. While on the square, the Bank of Ripley welcomed visitors by inviting them to its annual Black History Month exhibit. Boasting a unique Art Deco-style county courthouse, Ripley’s Square is part of the Tennessee Main Street program, the nationally recognized downtown revitalization movement started several decades ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and now administered by the National Main Street Center. It is also home to great retail shops, wonderful restaurants, an outdoor amphitheater featuring live music and events throughout the summer months, a fantastic Farmer’s Market each May through September, a beautiful splash pad fountain, and special events surrounding the annual Ripley Tomato Festival, which celebrates Ripley’s famous, mouthwatering tomatoes each July. A delicious southern meal at Vert’s Diner in Ripley topped off the Lauderdale County tour, before heading to Tipton County.
In Tipton County, visitors enjoyed the charming Covington Downtown Square, the home of annual events including the Chocolate Tour each February, Music on the Square in the May and June, and the Dicken’s on the Square celebration each December. They also found hidden treasures in the many antique shops on the Square. Historian and City Councilwoman Minnie Bommer lead discussions on the contributions of African Americans in Tipton County history and the plans for a new African American Culture and Heritage Museum in Covington.
The West Tennessee Heritage and “Roots” Day Trippin Bus Tours will continue throughout the year and can be scheduled Monday through Saturday. To reserve your seat on an upcoming tour, or to schedule a private tour for your group, please call Heritage Tours at (901) 527-3427.