Can Virginia Preserve the Sites of "Green Book" Travel from the Jim Crow Era?Breaking News
tags: Jim Crow, historic preservation, travel, segregation, African American history, Green Book
In Tappahannock, Virginia, celebrity chef Rahman “Rock” Harper has roots that run deep. It’s where he spent summers growing up learning to cook and entertain, and the town in which his mother spent her entire childhood. It’s also where his grandparents ran Harris’ Grill – the only safe restaurant for miles for Black travelers in the thick of Jim Crow.
It was one of hundreds of locations featured in The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for travelers that charted a working list of hotels, restaurants and other establishments that accepted Black patrons in a racially segregated South.
“Harris’ Grill was like a safe haven for Black people passing through the neighborhood when it was still in business,” Harper said.
The building that housed grill is still standing decades later, but this is rare – many of the other locations have decayed or no longer exist. Now, Virginia legislators and activists are moving forward with a plan to preserve what’s left of them.
On March 23, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law a bill to designate historic site signs identifying Green Book locations and businesses around the region. It directs the state’s Department of Historic Resources, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Department of Transportation to promote and educate the community about the history of the region’s Green Book sites. The law, believed to be the first of its kind, will go into effect on July 1.
Identifying Green Book sites can educate Virginia residents about the state’s history, but for people like Harper, the acknowledgement of these historical relics holds a deeper meaning.
“In the 1950s, there was a lot of racism and fear in the country,” said his mother Carole Harris-Harper, who is 77. Her parents owned the grill, and her cousins owned a rooming house nearby. “My family didn’t want us to feel that kind of discrimination, that hatred. They wanted us to feel safe. So, in Tappahannock, they helped create this world where we had everything we needed.”
“Across the various editions of the Green Book, there were about 300 sites in Virginia. It’s estimated that there are about 60 in total that are still standing,” said Julie Langan, the director and state historic preservation officer of the Department of Historic Resources. “But we haven’t been able to do a comprehensive inventory and field-verify locations — and that's what the additional funding would enable us to do.”