One of the most disturbing consequences of America’s Jim Crow segregation era is the limited amount of archival documentation that can be found about Black-owned and operated businesses and organizations from the time period. Even a search of sites such as eBay and Etsy for old postcards of historic structures routinely finds few hotels, business districts, churches, entertainment venues, restaurants, and other facilities that were owned by or served African-Americans.
Preserving and documenting these businesses and organizations, as well as those black entrepreneurs who founded/opened/operated them is vitally important for building a legacy — a historical record of the many contributions and accomplishments made to our nation by our fellow citizens despite all the impediments that have been set in their way by bigoted laws and attitudes. To do otherwise diminishes the many achievements of these entrepreneurs. Given the sad history of race relations in the United States, celebrating the hard-fought victories by any minority group or individual over the rigid limits created by hate and intolerance can go a long way towards healing racial divisions and dispel false stereotypes.
The fact that African-Americans even needed Green Book guides for their traveling safety says a lot about the narrow-minded bigotry that has bedeviled too many aspects of American society for far too long. And, it wasn’t just a “southern” issue, either. While Jim Crow segregation laws may have been enacted by legislatures across the South; most, if not all of the same injustices were perpetrated upon African-Americans in the North, the East, and the West, as well.
The existence of these historic travel guides is beneficial for researching, identifying, and cataloging the lodging and dining establishments that were either owned, operated, or opened to serve Black Americans as they traveled. A facsimile reprint of the 1957 Green Book edition was a used as a handy resource for identifying many of the lodging establishments for this post.
As will become evident while perusing the list below, many of these iconic places have been tragically lost to the wrecking ball, while just two (2) of them are still used for lodging purposes. The stories and legacies that arose from these hotels are just as important, if not more so, than those told by similar white-owned/operated establishments. This is due to several reasons:
- There were so many prejudices to overcome that white-owned/operated hotels never had to face. These include geographic restrictions, limited access to lending capital, redlining of neighborhoods, and many more.
- Each successful African-American owned or operated hotel (or any other business for that matter) represented another victory over the scourge of segregation.
- Four additional factors arose during the 1950s/1960s that had significant impacts on the well-being of Black-owned lodging establishments and sent many of them into decline. These include:
- As segregation laws were overturned, Black Americans were able to stay in any lodging establishment;
- Many locations were bypassed by Interstate Highway construction and/or demolished by urban renewal projects;
- National lodging chains appeared on the landscape, but minority franchise ownerships were not being promoted or pursued until the 2000s [as late as 2001, only one (1) branded hotel in the USA was owned by an African-American]; and
- White consumers failed to utilize black-owned businesses after integration to the degree that was needed to keep them operating.
- A recent report from the New Yorker indicates that that only 2% of the 95,000+ sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States pertain to African-American history.
Please note, that the places listed below are only a very small fraction of the hotels, motels, tourist homes, and/or rooming houses that catered to the needs of African-Americans during segregation. The ones depicted below are among the most historically important black-owned lodging facilities, whose histories should be (or should have been) fully documented, preserved, and protected. It is certainly not a complete list and as always, any additions, corrections, or suggestions are most welcome and appreciated.
Hotel Ben Moore – Montgomery (Centennial Hill), Alabama
- Opened in 1945 by D.C. Moore, as the first hotel to serve black customers in Montgomery. Named for Mr. Moore’s father who was born a slave in 1848.
- Included the Majestic Cafe, Afro Club, Malden Brothers Barber Shop, and 28 rooms.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Little Richard got their hair cut locally at Malden Brothers.
- Regular meeting spot for civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
- Located across the street from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family lived in Montgomery
- First high-rise outside of downtown Montgomery
- Musicians, including Tina Turner, Clarence Carter, and B.B. King performed in the Afro Club on the top floor
- The building is currently vacant and needs both restoration and preservation as a state and/or national historic site.
Biltmore Hotel -Durham (Hayti), North Carolina
- Built in 1929 with 30 (or 20?) rooms by Dr. Clyde Donnell.
- Included a grill/coffee shop and drug store on the first floor.
- Artists like Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson stayed and/or performed here.
- This historic landmark was razed in 1977 and now is the site of a lowly parking lot.
Booker T. Washington Hotel – San Francisco, California
- Originally built as the Hotel Edison in 1910 with 115 rooms.
- Bought by Charles Sullivan from Fats Corlett, who had renamed it the Booker T. Washington Hotel. Included the Emperor Lounge and Empress Dining Room.
- Famous guests or performers in the lounge included the Harlem Globetrotters, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Langston Hughes, and Joe Louis. Performers would often rehearse at the hotel lounge during the day prior to their evening shows at the nearby Fillmore Auditorium.
- Charles Sullivan was locally known as the “Mayor of Fillmore.” He was shot and killed August 2, 1966, under suspicious circumstances. The case has never been solved.
- The hotel was closed and torn down in 1970 – another victim of supposed “urban renewal.”
California Hotel – Oakland (West Oakland), California
- Opened in 1930 with 150 rooms, bars and ballrooms. African-Americans could attend shows at the hotel, but could not stay here until 1953, when new ownership took over and ended the discriminatory lodging policies.
- Grand re-opened in 1953 included performances by Eddie “Rochester’ Anderson, Lena Horne, and Joe Louis.
- Other entertainers including Big Mama Thornton, B.B. King, Lou Rawls, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Richard Pryor either stayed or performed at the hotel.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988
- Renovated in 2014 to include 137 residential units and 8,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space.
Douglass Hotel – Macon, Georgia
- The hotel opened in 1908 by wealthy Georgia businessman, Charles Henry Douglass.
- The adjacent Douglass Theatre (as shown above) opened in 1921 and was restored in 1997.
- Unfortunately, the hotel has been demolished.
Hotel Dumas – Roanoke (Gainsboro), Virginia
- Built in 1917 – owned and operated by the Barlow family from 1934-1976 (see photo)
- Musicians including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Lionel Hampton performed here.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Henry Street Historic District in 2004.
- Restored as a music and arts cultural center in the 1990s, but is currently vacant.
Dunbar Hotel – Gainesville, Florida – Added 1/11/21
- Opened in 1936 by Jackson and Sophronia Dunbar, as the first hotel in the city for African-American guests
- Continued to be the only hotel for African-Americans in Gainesville into the 1950s
- Notable guests included Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and B.B. King
- Closed in the 1980s and was converted to a home for teenage mothers in 1995
- Now owned by the Dunbar Foundation and appears to be in the process of being turned into a restaurant and wine bar, with events
Eggleston Hotel – Richmond (Jackson Ward), Virginia
- Opened by William “Buck” Miller in 1904 with 30 guest rooms
- Bought by Neverett Eggleston, Sr. in 1935
- Notable guests have included Duke Ellington, Redd Foxx, Ethel Waters, and James Brown.
- Mr. Eggleston, Sr. would routinely post bail for sit-in demonstrators during the Civil Rights era.
- Mr. Eggleston, Jr. was a co-founder of the Metropolitan Business League in Richmond and formed Voters Voice in 1964 – an Africa-American political action organization.
- After being vacant since the 1980s, the hotel was razed in 2009
- A new mixed use development (Eggleston Plaza) containing apartments, townhomes, and retail was completed on the site of the hotel in 2016 by local developer and businessman Kelvin Hanson.
A.G. Gaston Motel – Birmingham, Alabama
- Opened in 1954 with 32 guest rooms, a dining room and a cocktail lounge – built and owned by African-American businessman Arthur George (A.G.) Gaston.
- The motel was a significant site for Civil Rights activities in 1963, as leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) took up residence here in April and May of 1963.
- Mr. Gaston paid Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s $160,000 bond to have him released from jail.
- Two (2) bombs exploded outside the motel near Dr. King’s guest room on May 12, 1963.
- Artists including Little Richard, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte, and Count Basie preformed in the lounge.
- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife Alma spent their wedding night here in 1962.
- Has been vacant since 1996, but will be restored to reflect its 1954-1968 appearance as part of the National Park Service’s Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument that was established by President Obama.
Jackson Rooming House – Tampa (Scrub), Florida
- Property was acquired by Moses and Sarah Jackson in 1901(3 )and they expanded and converted the six-room home into a 24-unit rooming house for black travelers in 1912.
- Famous guests have included Cab Calloway, James Brown, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., briefly visited the famous rooming house in 1961 while he was in Tampa.
- The Jackson Rooming House stayed in operation until 1989 and remained under family ownership until the non-profit Jackson House Foundation recently acquired it.
- Believed to be the last free-standing residential structure in downtown Tampa.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
- The Jackson House Foundation is raising the funds necessary to restore the historic rooming house. Restoration is currently ongoing with the goal to turn it into a local museum of African-American history.
(St.) James Hotel – Charleston, South Carolina
- Opened in 1952 by the four Washington Brothers (George, Edward, Henry, and James) as the only full-service hotel serving African-Americans in the city.
- The brothers also owned the Ashley Grill – the largest Black-owned restaurant in the city, which was located next door.
- Contained 20 guest rooms and the Azalea Ballroom
- Notable guests included James Brown, Fats Domino, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Hank Aaron.
- The hotel closed in 1978 and was demolished shortly thereafter and replaced with a McDonald’s restaurant.
Hotel Lincoln – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Opened in 1955 as the first hotel in the city to serve black customers. It included a dining area and a barber shop.
- A passing carload of whites attempted to bomb the hotel after it opened, but failed.
- Hosted music icons like Nat King Cole, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and B.B. King
- Shut down operations in the 1970s
- In the process of being renovated into a mixed use development as shown above.
Littlepage Hotel – Oklahoma City (Deep Deuce), Oklahoma
- The building was built in 1924 by African-American’s Junius Singleton Littlepage and Alfred Louis Littlepage.
- The hotel containing 25 rooms on the second floor was renamed the Littlepage Hotel in 1935 when the brothers took its operations over. A barber shop and grocer were on the first floor.
- Notable guest who stayed here included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis.
- Became vacant in 1990, but has recently been restored and re-occupied.
- The building represents the last remaining lodging facility in the historic Black neighborhood of Deep Deuce.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Lorraine Motel – Memphis, Tennessee
- The Lorraine Motel will be forever remembered as the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968.
- The building was first built in 1925 as the Windsor Hotel and was later renamed the Marquette Hotel. The hotel catered to African-Americas guests throughout its history.
- Purchased in 1945 by black businessman Walter Bailey, who expanded it to 28 rooms, updated the facility, and renamed it the Lorraine.
- The hotel closed in 1982 and opened as a museum in 1991.
- Aside from Dr. King, other famous guests who have stayed at the Lorraine Motel have included Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Sarah Vaughn, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, and the Staple Singers.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the South Main Street Historic District in Memphis.
- The National Civil Rights Museum is located here.
Magnolia House Hotel – Greensboro, North Carolina
- Built as a home in 1889, then converted to a hotel by Arthur & Louise Gist in 1949
- Notable African-Americans who have stayed here include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Jackie Robinson, Lionel Hampton, and Satchel Paige.
- Closed in the late 1960s/early 1970s and eventually became vacant.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Restored as a non-profit bed & breakfast by Sam Pass
- One of two hotels in this list that has survived and continues to be used as a lodging facility .
Manse Hotel & Annex – Cincinnati, Ohio
- Built in 1876 and operated as the Hotel Terry. Bought by local businessman Horace Sudduth in 1931 and renamed the Hotel Manse in 1950, after he expanded it to 108 rooms. It included the Sweetbriar Room for dining.
- Mr. Sudduth was named the “Number 1 African-American* Citizen of Cincinnati” in 1951. *The currently preferred term of “African-American” was used here for Mr. Sudduth’s award title.
- Home of the 1946 National NAACP Convention – attendees included Thurgood Marshall, Joe Louis, and members of the Tuskegee Airmen
- Hank Ballard wrote “The Twist” in his hotel room here – other noted guests include Duke Ellington, Count Basie, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Josephine Baker, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays.
- The hotel was sold by the Sudduth family in 1970 and now has 60 affordable senior apartment housing units.
- Added to theNational Register of Historic Places in 2019 – a detailed history of Mr. Suddth’s life and the hotel are available through this weblink.
Mary Elizabeth Hotel – Miami (Overtown), Florida
- Built in 1921 with 90 guest rooms by Dr. William B. Sawyer and operated by his wife Alberta
- Included two lounges – the Flamingo Room and the Zebra Lounge and a drug store
- Noted guests included W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, and Adam Clayton Powell
- Hosted the Miss Latin America Beauty Pageant in 1950
- Dr. Sawyer was named “Outstanding Citizen” by the Miami Times in 1950, a mere six-months before his untimely death.
- The hotel was demolished in 1983.
Mitchell Hotel – Memphis, Tennessee – added 2/7/21
- Opened by Andrew “Sunbeam” Mitchell in 1944. and operated it until 1958
- Located on the third floor above Pantaze Drug Store on the ground level and the world-famous Club Handy (also owned by Mitchell) on the second floor.
- Lodged many famous musicians while they were in Memphis, including Nat King Cole, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Count Basie, Johnny Ace, and Little Richard
- The Mitchells (Sunbeam & Ernestine) were known for their abundant generosity and kindness, allowing struggling musicians to stay for free and feed them chili until their next paying gig took place.
- The building has been beautifully renovated and restored (see photo below).
Pershing Hotel – Chicago (Woodlawn), Illinois
- Became black-owned in 1943
- Was once owned by author and playwright, Lorraine Hansberry
- Included a 2,000 person ballroom
- Artists including Ahmad Jamal and Charlie Parker performed here.
- Demolished in the 1964
Powell Hotel – Dallas, Texas
- A 40-room hotel built in 1929 by D.H. and Susie Powell
- Almost every notable African-American visitor to Dallas during the Jim Crow era stayed here.
- The Powell’s opened several other hotels in Dallas.
Queen City Hotel – Columbus, Mississippi – Added 1/19/21
- Built and founded in 1914 by Robert Walker, a former slave
- Ed & Bessie Bush replaced the original wooden building with this brick structure in 1948
- Notable guests included Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, Little Richard, and James Brown
- All that remains is a vacant lot with the historic marker shown below.
Riverside Hotel – Clarksdale, Mississippi
- Originally built as the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital. Famed Blues singer Bessie Smith died here in 1937 after an auto accident.
- Converted to the Riverside Hotel by Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff in 1943-1944 who rented the building from 1943-1957.
- The hotel was expanded to 21 rooms and was purchased by Mrs. Ratliff in 1957. The hotel has been owned and operated by members of the Ratliff family ever since.
- The hotel is located in the heart of the Delta Blues country and has attracted renown African-American musicians and performers as guest while they were traveling through the area.
- One of two hotels on this list that has survived and continues to serve as a lodging facility to this day.
Hotel Southern Queen – Bowling Green, Kentucky
- Built in 1906 as a home with 10 rooms by James Covington and his wife Mattie.
- Members of the family operated a small restaurant here beginning in 1920 and a hotel/tourist home here from 1945 to 1975.
- Many African-American musicians stayed here while on the road.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 as part of the Shake Rag Historic District.
- Is currently a private rental residence and is still owned by members of the Covington’s extended family.
Street(s) Hotel – Kansas City, Missouri
- Operated by Reuben & Della Street starting in 1922 and purchased by them in 1947.
- Mr. Street was also a founder of Tri-State Bank in Memphis.
- The hotel contained 60 rooms and was located in Kansas City’s famed 18th & Vine Jazz District.
- Included a haberdasher, tailor, post office, the famous Blue Room Cocktail Lounge, and Rose Room restaurant.
- Mr. Street sold the hotel to Robert Williams in 1954 after his wife death the previous year.
- The hotel was sold again at foreclosure in 1960. No additional details on the hotel’s fate could be found since then.
- The current Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum is named after the famous lounge that was once located in the Street Hotel.
Summers Hotel & Subway Lounge – Jackson, Mississippi
- Originally The Maples Rooming House for whites only.
- Purchased and established as the Summers Hotel in 1944 by W.J. Summers as the first hotel for African-Americans in Jackson. It was run by W.J. and his wife Elma.
- The Subway Lounge located in the basement was a famous “Juke Joint” for Blues music.
- Notable guests at the hotel included James Ballard, James Brown, and Nat King Cole.
- Numerous noted musicians performed at the Subway Lounge in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Documentary, Last of the Mississippi Jukes was filmed here in 2002.
- Despite efforts to save the deteriorated building, the hotel and iconic music venue were demolished in 2004. Sadly, all that remains are a vacant lot and the historic marker.
Hotel Teresa – New York City (Harlem), New York
- Opened by a German stockbroker in 1913 with 300 guest rooms.
- Guests were restricted to whites-only until 1940 when African-American businessman Love B. Woods acquired operating rights to manage the hotel and opened it to all races.
- Nicknamed the “Waldorf of Harlem”
- Home of the Organization for Afro-American Unity founded by Malcolm X, and the March on Washington Movement, the March Community Bookstore, and WLIB.
- Fidel Castro and his presidential entourage rented 80 rooms while in New York City in 1960 for the 1960 United States General Assembly. He was visited at the hotel during this time by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, President Abdel Nassar of Egypt, Malcolm X, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India.
- Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie made a campaign stop here in 1960.
- Other famous guests included Muhammed Ali, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Lena Horne, Little Richard, Joe Louis, Malcolm X, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Dinah Washington.
- The hotel closed in 1970 and has been converted to offices with commercial uses at street level.
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and a New York City Landmark in 1993.
E.F. Young Hotel – Meridian, Mississippi – Added 1/4/21
- Eugene Fred (E.F.) Young, Jr. opened the hotel, with an accompanying barber shop, beauty shop, and shoeshine parlor in 1946.
- Aside from owing several barber shops and the hotel, Mr. Young owned a hair care products company (E.F. Young, Jr. Manufacturing). Mr. Young’s wife and family continued to run his businesses after he passed away in 1950.
- During the 1940s, Mr. Young was Vice-President of the Meridian NAACP Chapter.
- Distinguished guests who stayed at the hotel included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
- The hotel ended operations in 1978 and has been vacant in recent years. In 2019, the interior was cleaned up by its owners, but no plans have been announced for the building.
- The hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as contributing part of the Downtown Historic District in 2007.
Here’s a list of some of the organizations and grants that are dedicated towards helping preserve the remaining examples of historic buildings and businesses that were owned or operated by Black Americans.
- African American Civil Rights Grants
- African American Heritage Preservation Foundation
- African-American Trust for Historic Preservation
- National Trust for Historic Preservation African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
- Jackson House Foundation (in Tampa)
- Save America’s Treasures Grants
- Underrepresented Community Grants
- Green, Victor H. The Negro Traverlers’ Green Book, 1957 facsimile edition
Thank you for this article. I love buildings from those earlier decades and feel sad when I see them abandoned or destroyed.
The article contains spelling and punctuation mistakes that should be corrected for the sake of professionalism. Some examples are, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,’s and Little Richard’s got their hair cut locally at Malden Brothers” (it should be “Jr. and Richard”); “After being vacant for since the 1980s, the hotel was raised in 2009” (the word “for” should not be there and “raised” should be “razed”); “Restored as now a non-profit” (should not include “now”).
I do not have time to go back to find others but wanted to alert you. I would have emailed you directly but I cannot find a contact email address.
Thank you. Seems to happen no matter how many times it’s proofread.
I have corrected the three (3) errors you noted. I have run into some issues with WordPress auto-correcting the spelling of words after I type them in. The “raised” vs. “razed” is a perfect example. Otherwise, some are errors that took place after revising a sentence and not catching the corresponding changes that were needed. Thank you, again.
Herman Roberts had a chain of motels on the south side of Chicago for years I don’t know if he was the first black to own a chain of motels (I think he was) but he definitely doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, he was a wonderful guy to be around and I would know He Was My Stepdad!!
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Thank you so much, for sharing Carey. I can understand why you are so proud of your Stepdad.