The Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo Green was a guidebook for African American travelers that provided a list of hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations, and other establishments throughout the country that served African American patrons. It was published annually from 1936 to 1966, when discrimination against African Americans was widespread. Jim Crow laws set the table for price gouging and physical violence while traveling around the United States. There were “sundown” cities that banned all African American travelers after nightfall. The Negro Motorist Green Book was a must-have to help African Americans travel safely. Listings in the guide were either Black-owned or, if not, known to be non-discriminatory.
Today, some of those havens are still around. Here’s a look at a few of them.
1. Magnolia House, Greensboro, North Carolina
Magnolia House, a former Green Book motel, is one of the few Green Book sites in North Carolina still operating. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Legends like James Brown, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, and Tina Turner stayed there, as well as regular folks like the families of students attending HBCUs Bennett College and North Carolina A&T State University.
Now after recent renovations, you can stay there, too. Natalie Pass Miller took over the hotel from her father who bought it from the original owners in 1995. Growing up in the neighborhood, she used to be excited to see who was getting out of the fancy cars at the hotel. She never dreamed she would one day own it. Preserving the heritage of Magnolia House became so important she quit her full-time job to devote herself to restoring the home to its glory. Mission accomplished.
To visit is to step back in time. There’s a ton of memorabilia with exhibits, photos, and artifacts that take you right back. And even after the restoration, not everything is new. The house is a faithful replica of what it was like in 1949. Even the original stairwell remains. I got a thrill just thinking about whose hands touched the rails and if the walls could talk, the stories they could tell. A very cool vibe permeates the place.
“This was a safe space for people like James Baldwin, who would play with the kids in the street, or you might see Louis Armstrong cleaning his trumpet. He would come and stay for weeks at a time. Magnolia House had a part in their greatness. They could be themselves here. This is the house that soul built,” Miller shared.
Magnolia House is more than a hotel. Not only can you browse the memorabilia, but you can also enjoy a Sunday brunch and live music performances. If you’re on the run, pop in and get a Shoebox lunch to go. During Jim Crow, black travelers often carried shoebox lunches in case they couldn’t find a Green Book site to eat at. Expect treats like fried chicken, deviled eggs, fruit, vegetables, and pound cake. I was quite satisfied with this Southern delight. Long after the meal is gone, you’ll have the shoebox. It’s a work of art loaded with historical information, a keepsake for sure.
2. Dooky Chase Restaurant, New Orleans
Dooky Chase is an institution in New Orleans. This former Green Book site opened in 1941 in Treme. The Chase family is the stuff of Louisiana legends. This is no ordinary restaurant. Back in the day, it was the center of action, be it music, entertainment, or civil rights. The family has deep musical roots in jazz. In the ’60s, you could find Martin Luther King, Jr.. and local leaders brainstorming in the upstairs meeting room in the restaurant. Leah Chase became known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine. Dooky’s was the first art gallery for Black artists in New Orleans. And yes, the food is some of the best anywhere, whether you choose the fried chicken, shrimp Clemenceau, chicken creole, or stuffed shrimp, you’ll know why they’ve been in business so long.
The restaurant closed and took two years to rebuild after Katrina. Dooky’s is a must-eat not only for tourists, but local folk, too, as well as the likes of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and, yesteryear, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. There is now an additional Dooky Chase restaurant at the New Orleans airport.
3. Hotel Metropolitan, Paducah, Kentucky
The Hotel Metropolitan, now a museum, was the first hotel in Paducah operated by and for African Americans. There was a thriving African American community that needed a hotel. In 1909, 24-year-old widow Maggie Steed seized this opportunity. She was unsuccessful in her first attempt to build a hotel because she was a woman. Not to be outdone, she went back using her late husband’s name and got the hotel built. The hotel was graced by guests like Cab Calloway, B.B. King, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Harlem Globetrotters, and members of the Negro Baseball League, including Satchel Paige.
4. Charlie’s Place, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
In the Booker T. Washington neighborhood between the late 1930s and the early 1960s, Charlie’s Place was the hot spot. Black artists including Little Richard, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne may have been able to perform at white venues like the Ocean Forest Hotel, but they were otherwise not allowed to use the hotel facilities. Their haven was Charlie’s Place, owned by Charlie and Sarah Fitzgerald.
They could stay in the hotel, perform, and get a good meal there. In 1950 Ku Klux Klan members from nearby Conway raided Charlie’s Place. The story goes, 26 cars of armed Klansmen circled the property and fired hundreds of rounds. Everyone escaped except for Charlie, who was badly beaten. The only death was a Klansman, who was shot in the back by another Klansman. Some Klansmen were charged, but no one was ever prosecuted. Charlie recovered from his injuries and continued to run his successful business. The Fitzgerald home sat between the nightclub and the hotel they owned and remains there today, along with part of the hotel.
In 2017, the city of Myrtle Beach began a project to preserve the site and purchased the property. The city and community have reconstructed and remodeled the Fitzgerald’s home for use as a community center and event space, and construction continues. A few of the hotel rooms are a museum and depict what travel was like during segregation. The other rooms will be used for small shops and community classes.
5. Hampton House, Miami
The two-story, 50-room Hampton House had a motel, jazz club, restaurant, and swimming pool. Sammy Davis, Cannonball Adderly, and a host of other big names performed there.
If you saw the movie One Night in Miami, you know that Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke had a historic evening together there. The day after, Cassius Clay announced his conversion to the Nation of Islam. No doubt this was the “It spot” for glam and glitz, for celebs, athletes like Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson, and locals looking for Saturday night fun or a good time after church, but it was also the sight for weekly meetings by the Congress for Racial Equality.
Dr. King visited often during the early 1960s and was photographed in his swim trunks enjoying a dip in the pool and delivered a version of his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Hampton House in 1960 before his legendary oration at the March on Washington in 1963. However, when segregation ended, many in the once prominent Brownsville neighborhood left for other areas of Miami and the area declined. By 1976 Hampton House closed and became a dilapidated eyesore until the early 2000s. With talk of demolition, an advocacy group declared the block a protected historical sight in 2002 and it was later purchased by the county. In 2015, The Historic Hampton House started restoration on a $6 million budget. Today it is a museum and community center with plans to have an onsite café and jazz club and to restore selected rooms where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali stayed during their visits.
6. Crispus Attucks Theatre, Norfolk, Virginia
The Crispus Attucks Theatre built in 1919 was designed by African American architect Harvey Johnson. The “Apollo of the South” was the place to go and be seen with performances from greats like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole. By 1924, the theatre was occupied by several lawyers, a dentist, realtors, and the National Benefit Life Insurance Company. The Great Depression stymied the prosperity of the Attucks Theatre and the surrounding Church Street area.
As early as 1931, there were a number of vacancies in the neighborhood, and the theatre building was ultimately purchased by Stark and Legum, the present owners. The theater building itself, along with the surrounding businesses that thrived as a black commercial center in the 1920s, rapidly declined. The theater closed in 1933 for renovations and reopened in 1934 as the Booker T. Theatre. It closed again in 1953. Business slowed after WWII. It became a men’s clothing store and pawnshop. In 1983 the theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of an effort to revitalize the neighborhood. After an $8.4 million renovation, the building was restored and reopened in October 2004. Since then, performers have included Wynton Marsalis, Al Jarreau, and Ruth Brown.
For more to see and do in these iconic cities, and beyond, consider