Greensboro’s ‘Green Book’ history

Posted on October 07, 2020

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The Magnolia House is entering its second act. And a class of Spartans are determined that its first is well-documented.

In the Jim Crow era, hotels in the South were segregated. African American travelers relied on the Green Book Motorist Guide for listings of hotels.

Greensboro’s The Magnolia House is one of only four buildings still standing in North Carolina that were “Green Book” hotels.

Situated between downtown and Bennett College, its guests included James Brown, Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin, Ike and Tina Turner, and thousands of other travelers. It was a center of its community.

Green Book, 1940 edition, published by Victor H. Green

A class of UNCG museum studies master’s students have combed archives, scanned old photos, and interviewed community members and the current owners, the Pass family. The students are creating lesson plans for teachers and planning programming.

They’re helping create an exhibition space in the house, to tell an important story – of the community, of past racial restrictions and racist mores, of some figures in its history.

The owners are not just restoring the building. They are reestablishing its place at the center of the neighborhood – a restaurant, a meeting spot, a vital piece of history.

Dr. Torren Gatson, assistant professor of history, says, “The people of Greensboro are poised to learn that this site played a major role in the music scene as well as the fight for civil rights in Greensboro. Often times, historic places are seen through only one lens. But when we unpack those rich histories, other stories emerge.”

The new site manager, Melissa Knapp ’20 MA, relishes being able to promote the history, as she builds on her UNCG training. “I loved my hands-on experience at UNCG. It’s not just theoretical.”

By Mike Harris
Photography by Martin W. Kane

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