Interest in historical sites turns neighborhoods into tourist attractions

A renewed interest in historical sites has turned some Mid-South neighborhoods into tourist attractions. From the National Civil Rights Museum, where Dr. King was assassinated, to a north Memphis stop on the Underground Railroad, cultural consciousness is big business.

Memphis based Heritage Tours is one company riding a growing wave of interest in black historical sites. Researchers say tours those offered by Heritage Tours are the second-fastest growing tourism segment on the market. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, black tourists spend more than $30 billion annually, mixing cash with consciousness.

Elaine Turner owns Heritage Tours, and conducts cultural field trips several times a week, covering everything from the pain of slavery to the pride of businesses like the Universal Life Insurance Company.

"It was the 4th largest black owned insurance company in the United States," she said.

The tour covers topics in Memphis music history too, dating back to the early days of Beale Street and W.C. Handy, the father of the blues.

Just last year, Tennessee tourism officials upped the state's "soul appeal" with an advertising campaign that included Isaac Hayes.

"What's important about learning black history is that you can find out where you came from, and learn your heritage and history, and you will have something to be grateful for," said Memphis student Dorian Jones.

That kind of gratitude is why Memphis, and other cities throughout the Mid-South, are turning their historic past into the new tourism industry of the future.