Raney: Exploring Chattanooga businesses in the Green Book

As the "Green Book's" influence grew, several Chattanooga businesses placed ads in the publication. Quinn's Hotel on Carter Street advertised its 48 rooms.

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The New York Public Library has scanned versions of the “Green Book” at https://tinyurl.com/hjnjkt8For more information on Chattanooga’s African-American history, visit the Local History Department of the Public Library at 1001 Broad Street.

The movie "Green Book" familiarizes us with the decades-old publication the "Negro Motorists Green Book." In the movie, Tony Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer, drives Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American pianist, through the Deep South on a music tour. Vallelonga uses the "Green Book" to navigate his client through the unfriendly and sometimes hostile cities that enforced Jim Crow segregation laws. The original "Green Book" listed hotels, residences, restaurants, bars, drug stores and gas stations that welcomed African-American travelers.

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Victor H. Green, a black postal carrier in New York City, published the first "Green Book" in 1936 and listed local establishments. He gathered his information from other postal carriers. The final edition in 1967 covered the entire United States and several foreign cities. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act banned racial segregation in public places, and facilities for travelers began integrating, black motorists no longer needed the "Green Book."

Sometimes Chattanooga addresses in the "Green Book" failed to match any listing in the City Directory. The first year (1939), of Chattanooga listings in the "Green Book" included three hotels: Lincoln at 1101 Carter St., Martin at 204 E. Ninth St., and Peoples at 1104 Carter St. African-American travelers found The Peeples Hotel (originally built by the Peeples brothers in 1886) at the intersection of Ninth, Carter and Chestnut streets. The hotel had four floors, steam passenger elevators, a ladies' parlor and a kitchen on the fourth floor. The 1939 City Directory listed only the Martin Hotel in the "Green Book."

The Martin Hotel was famous in and out of Chattanooga. In 1993, The Chattanooga Times labeled the hotel as the "social center to Chattanooga blacks." It bustled with black soldiers staying there during World War II. The Martin's proximity to the Memorial Auditorium later made it the favored hostelry for African-American dignitaries including Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige. Miss Mayme Martin, the hotel's manager was there to greet her guests.

When hotels were filled, travelers could turn to the "Green Book" for listings of private homes and boarding houses. In 1939, Mrs. J. Baker at 843 E. Eighth St., Mrs. E. Brown at 1133 E. Eighth St., Mrs. D. Lowe at 803 Fairview Ave., and Mrs. A. Jackson at 1416 College St. provided safe and comfortable rooms for people of color. Cloud Rolling restaurant at 422 E. Ninth St., Simms Taxi at 915 University St. and Wright's Barber Shop at 219 E. Ninth St. were also included in the 1939 "Green Book."

As the "Green Book's" influence grew, several Chattanooga businesses purchased photo advertisements. In 1963, Mrs. Annie Conley's photograph appeared with notice of her restaurant Le Grand Eat Shop at 206 E. Ninth St. Both Le Grand restaurant and Quinn's Hotel on Carter Street had advertisements in the "Green Book."

Mrs. R. Harris and Mrs. Pauline Burgans opened the Quinn's Hotel at 223-227 W. Main St. in 1959. An article in the Chattanooga Observer (Nov. 21, 1959) stated that "a dream of a lifetime of colored people is to have a super, modern, up-to-the-minute hotel in Chattanooga." This modern establishment had a sprinkler system, dining room service, counter room service and steam heat. (Mrs. Harris had operated the Harris Hotel at 110 Carter St. before Quinn's.)

A fire in Dec. 4, 1985, gutted the Quinn hotel and left four people dead. The hotel's low rents encouraged permanent residents. The owner in 1985 was Chattanooga Paper and Woodenwear Co., and the operators were Pauline Burgans, Algenard Herring and his wife, Ernestine Burgans Herring. Survivors and heirs of those who died brought suits against the company and the Burgans. No further information is available on the hotel operation or the lawsuits. The building was torn down.

Reading the "Green Book" takes one into another's world. African-American motorists were not able to partake effortlessly in the "freedom of the road" but the "Green Book" made their trip a little easier.

Suzette Raney is archivist at the Public Library. She can be reached at sraney@lib.chattanooga.gov or 423-643-7725. For more visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.