Feb 2, 2023 - News

Columbus' Green Book history

Columbus Green Book sites still standing
Data: Axios research; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

When Black travelers visited Columbus in the mid-20th century, the Green Book showed them places where they'd be most welcome in what was still a heavily segregated society.

  • One was the Macon Hotel, where legends Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie once played in its popular jazz club.

State of play: The Green Book travel guides, which have received renewed attention thanks to the 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner, ceased publication many decades ago.

  • But the Macon and several other listed sites are still standing in Columbus' King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood, a prominent commercial area for Black-owned businesses.

Why it matters: The sites are visible reminders that America's segregated past was not so long ago.

Flashback: Ohio enacted a public accommodations law in 1884 prohibiting public discrimination in places like stores and restaurants.

Driving the news: Axios Columbus reviewed county property records as well as nearly two-dozen Green Book editions printed between 1938-1967 to track the dozens of entries for local restaurants, shops, clubs and hotels.

  • Most buildings listed were later demolished, against residents' wishes, via neighborhood development and highway construction.
  • We found eight that have survived.

Zoom in: The Hotel St. Clair, one example, opened in the 1940s to house Black guests forbidden from staying at whites-only hotels.

  • The building (now an apartment complex) still stands, as do a pair of former "tourist homes" on Monroe Avenue that are now private residences.
  • Three other locations on Long Street and Mount Vernon Avenue that were beauty shops and a tavern now sit vacant.
  • And a building once home to Jeters Restaurant was restored by the Columbus Urban League and now serves the community as the Huntington Empowerment Center.

Meanwhile, the derelict Macon Hotel, considered by preservation advocates to be an "endangered building," may also be getting a makeover.

  • The city's Historic Resources Commission has greenlighted plans to conduct significant repair work in the hopes of someday reopening a hotel, bar and restaurant.

The bottom line: These rehab projects offer hope that other Green Book sites can also be restored to their former glory.

A derelict brick building that once housed a famous hotel and jazz club.
The former Macon Hotel and jazz lounge on North 20th Street. Photo: Tyler Buchanan/Axios
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