Hidden History: Jackson Ward hotel offered safe haven to black travelers during segregation

Black History Month

RICHMOND, VA (WRIC) — The Oscar-nominated movie “Green Book” is highlighting the trials and tribulations of black travelers in the south during segregation. 

The Actual guidebook, which became the premise of the movie, listed black-friendly hotels and private residences. Some of those locations were right here in Richmond. One of the most famous spots The Eggleston Hotel.   

The old Eggleston hotel that stood in Richmond for many years here on this corner in Jackson Ward is gone, but a new development here now, carries the name Eggleston hotel, even though it’s not a hotel.

This corner of Second and Leigh streets, here in Jackson Ward, was known as the Harlem of the south.

“It was the finest of places for us as a race of people to stay,” says Neverrett Eggleston, Jr. “We couldn’t go to other hotels motels, restaurants here in the city of Richmond because of segregation.”

The Eggleston Hotel was the place to see and to be seen. It offered a safe haven to many a black traveler during the Jim Crow era, who found the ads in the green book, the guidebook, known as the bible for black travel.

The Oscar-nominated movie "Green Book" is highlighting the trials and tribulations of black travelers in the south during segregation. 

Those green books are the focus of the Oscar-nominated movie of the same name. 

“My dad would put Coca Cola crates, wood crates up so I could reach to wash dishes and wait on people across the desk,” says Eggleston. “That’s how I started.”

Now in his mid 80’s Neverett Eggleston Junior started working at his family’s hotel as a child, “There were 39 or 40 rooms. Dining room on the second floor, dance floor on the second floor, private dining room, first floor.”

He had a front-row seat for many of the famous visits and visitors. Jackie Robinson, Redd Foxx, James Brown, and the Temptations along with many other celebrities found their way to the Eggleston.

On his way to Washington, hours before his famous speech on the Mall, Doctor Martin Luther King Junior made a detour to the Eggleston.

“We fed Martin Luther King the day he was going to Washington,” says Eggleston. “He stopped off, my dad fixed breakfast for him and his entourage.

Muhammad Ali stayed there too and had to lean on the staff for help with his training.

“He used to like to ride on the back of my motorcycle,” says Eggleston. “I’d take him up to Byrd park in the morning to run, he would run 5, 6 or 7 miles.”

The Oscar-nominated movie "Green Book" is highlighting the trials and tribulations of black travelers in the south during segregation. 

The Eggleston family would go on to own a motor lodge next door and several businesses that were all busy with travelers too during the era. 

After the civil rights movement, when Richmond desegregated, Second Street and the Eggleston lost many of its customers to businesses around the city.  

The Eggleston hotel closed during the ’80s and just on the cusp of it being redeveloped in 2009, it collapsed.

A highway marker reminds folks of its importance and its legacy in the community.   

“I went to school, but all my training was on 2nd street,” says Eggleston. “that’s where I grew up, that’s what I know, that was my world.”

The Eggleston Family legacy continues in Richmond and Virginia with the Croaker’s Spot and Sugar’s Crab Shack restaurants.    

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