By Clint Confehr
FRANKLIN, TN — Historic preservationists are dedicating a state marker Saturday to memorialize a house listed in a guide book for travelers suffering Jim Crow laws.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was brought to the attention of a wider and more recent audience by a 2019 Oscar-winning movie. “Green Book” premiered Sept. 11, 2018.
Dedication of the “Historic Green Book Home” marker, as described by the dedication’s announcement, was set for 10 a.m. Feb. 15 in front of the house at 253 Natchez St. where Ruth Gaylor (1902-1982) lived. It was a guest house before Civil Rights statutes outlawed discrimination at public accommodations. The house is owned by Shorter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The book was published by Victor Hugo Green (1892-1960). He was a mailman in New York City. He also started a travel agency.
“The book has an application form for people to register their places” to stay, get a haircut, shop, find other goods and services from black businesses, including restaurants, hotels,
gas stations, funeral homes and night clubs, says Paulette Johnson, a member of the board of directors for the African American Heritage Society. She verified the Natchez Street house as what’s listed in the book.
The Natchez part of Franklin includes public housing behind a shopping center that’s been anchored by an H.G. Hill’s grocery facing Columbia Avenue.
The Green Book was first published in 1936. It was published annually through the height of the Jim Crow south, ending with enforcement of civil rights laws, according to dedication event publicists. Johnson says the YMCA on Deaderick Street, Nashville, was listed in the book, which has been reproduced for historical purposes.
“These books are African American history at its simplest and its most complicated,” Johnson said.
The book was described as a “must have” travel guide which promised “vacation without aggravation” across the United States.
Plans to have a state marker at what’s also known as the Gaylor House grew from a conversation at the McLemore House, a restored home that’s now a museum owned and operated by the AAHS in Franklin’s Hard Bargain neighborhood. Local preservationist Pam Lewis had just seen the DreamWorks Pictures movie, mentioned it, and another AAHS member googled “Green Book” to find showtimes. References to the book raised questions about what it says about Franklin.
Subsequently, AAHS President Alma McLemore and Shorter Chapel’s pastor, Dr. Kenneth Hill, were consulted.
“The movie brought public attention to the fact that there were thousands of ‘sundown towns’ where African Americans could not spend the night [and] Franklin was one of those towns,” Pastor Hill said. “This house stands as a memorial and tribute for African American freedom to a bygone era when racial segregation was the order of the day.”
McLemore agrees: “This is another important historical time for African Americans … It represents a time and place in history that we never want to repeat but must preserve and include in the fabric of Franklin.”
Historians Thelma Battle and Rick Warwick worked together on the marker’s wording.
Lewis, who’s been honored for her dedication and leadership in preserving Middle Tennessee history, sponsored production of the marker.
“It is my hope that we will continue to preserve;” Lewis said, “recognizing and respecting the unique history of the Natchez and Hard Bargain communities, especially in view of persistent growth pressures, gentrification and inadequate diversified housing options. It has been an honor and labor of love to be involved in recognizing this simple stone home which safely sheltered countless travelers.”