Tavern Rest, on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News, was a safe place for Black motorists to stop for a bite back in the 1940s, as was the Sunlight, on Church Street in Norfolk. For gas, the Negro Motorist Green Book advised, there was the station at 30th and Orcutt in Newport News or Alston’s at 20th and Church in Norfolk.
They aren’t there any more — the Cantonese Express sits where Tavern Rest did, a baseball diamond and some houses at the corners of 30th and Orcutt. The Sunlight is gone, although there is an auto repair shop where Alston’s was.
But Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, wants Virginians to remember. He thinks the Green Book opens a window to part of Virginia’s history, the Jim Crow days when a Black family on the road couldn’t safely stop just anywhere for a bite to eat or a bathroom break or a tank of gas or a place to sleep.
He’s introduced a bill, HB 508, calling on the state Department of Historic Resources to put up markers to show places the Green Book told drivers they’d be safe.
As it happens, one of Mullin’s favorite spots at Buckroe Beach is by the old Bay Shore Hotel — the long-shuttered three-story, 70-room resort hotel that long was one of the top vacation spots in the nation for Black Americans.
But he didn’t know what the mysterious building was until a chat with Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, who remembered the Bay Shore as one of the few restaurants her family could enjoy.
“I thought: ‘this is part of our past that’s vanishing, that’s being totally forgotten,’” Mullin said.
Curious, he found the Bay Shore again, leafing through a copy of the Green Book.
“Imagine you’re leaving Buckroe and night is coming and you have a carful of kids and gas is running low and the next place you can get gas is Williamsburg, a long drive in the dark,” he said.
“That could be pretty scary.”
Harlem mailman Victor Green began publishing the Green Book in 1936, and updated it over the course of the next three decades.
“With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable,” he wrote in the 1949 edition.
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. ...It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year,” he continued.
Mullin said he hopes Green Book markers — which besides listing welcoming places, pointed out “sundown” towns, the ones a Black traveler did not want to be stuck in after dark markers will help Virginians think about some of the long, often frightening drives.
“It’s part of history we shouldn’t forget,” he said.
Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, firstname.lastname@example.org