Negro Motorist Green Book

Wilson’s only Green Book hotel.

Though several hotels opened and closed on East Nash Street in the first half of the twentieth century, only one, the Wilson Biltmore, made it into the famous Negro Motorist Green Book. (Other listings for Wilson include a taxi service and an ambiguous reference to a residential address on Washington Street.)

North Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s Green Book Project is an interactive web portal compiling in-depth information about more than 300 Green Book sites across the state. The project also includes a traveling and virtual exhibition that highlights the experiences of African American travelers in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era.

The Project’s entry on the Wilson Biltmore Hotel cites to research in Black Wide-Awake, and I’m happy and honored to be able to contribute to the documentation of this era in African-American history.

Image courtesy of Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center.

The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book (later titled The Negro Travelers’ Green Book and called the Green Book) was an annual guidebook for African-American travelers. New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green published the volume during the Jim Crow era, from 1936 to 1966, when hotels, restaurants and other businesses openly discriminated against black motorists. To counter the inconveniences and dangers and inconveniences they faced along the road, Green created a guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans.

Only a few of the many Wilson businesses catering to black clientele were listed in the Green Book. The 1941 edition of the guide is excerpted below.

Victor H. Green, The Negro Motorist Green-Book (1941).

  • Biltmore, East Washington Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list a hotel on East Washington, nor am I aware of any hotel at any time on Washington.
  • The Wilson Biltmore, 539 East Nash Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory lists Libby McPhatter‘s cafe at 539 East Nash. However, per the nomination form for Wilson’s Central Business District Historic District, McPhatter’s cafe was at 541, in one of two buildings erected after the three-story Hotel Union burned in the late 1940s. [3/1/2019 — See first link for an update on the Wilson Biltmore.]
  • M. Jones, 1209 East Queen Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list an M. Jones at 1209 East Queen Street, nor an M. Jones who is a taxi driver.
  • The 1948 Green Book lists the same three businesses in Wilson. Odd.

Copy of Green Book courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections.