It is clear race will be a big part of the ongoing discussions about the future of Beale Street.
Memphis City Council members discussed the street again Tuesday, two weeks after council members said a company was cheated out of a contract
to manage Beale Street because the company’s leadership is mainly African American.
Tuesday’s discussion did not yield any next steps for the future of Beale Street. But it did give council member Janis Fullilove plenty of time to vent her frustrations and sarcastically throw shade on the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), the organization that now manages the street.
DMC president Terrence Patterson presented council members with some successes they’ve had managing the street over the last three years. Patterson said his group has held back on some plans because the group was only to manage the street on an interim basis while the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority (BSTDA) found a permanent manager.
The BSTDA voted against giving the contract to 21 Beale, a black-led business, which was the last company standing during two rounds of requests for proposals from the Beale board. The board decided to continue to let the DMC manage the street.
Fullilove said of Patterson, who is black, “I see they sent a brother this time to address us.” She then ticked off a list of some of the events the DMC has put on, saying each name with a “who cares” inflection in her voice, but ended by saying “all of those are good things.”
“From the historical perspective, we’re not getting it,” Fullilove said. “Black folk, whether you like it or not, we were there on Beale Street. That was us.”
Furthering the race angle of the discussion was council member Barbara Swearengen, who asked who on the Beale Street board made the motion to not give the management contract to 21 Beale, She was told Jamal Whitlow. She asked if he is black or white and was told he is black.
She then asked how many member of the DMC were black and how much of their contract spending goes to black firms. She was told total spending with minority-and-women owned firms totaled about 36 percent of the DMC’s contract budget. But Swearengen wanted to know how much of that was spent with black businesses. The DMC officials did not have that figure on hand.
The discussion ended only because the meeting had run out of time. But Tourism Committee chairman Martavius Jones said the discussion would continue at the next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.