In 1940, Henry C. Hargraves, a prominent African-American businessman in Elizabeth City, advertised his tavern, the Blue Duck Inn and Grill in “The Negro Motorists Green Book.”
Located at 404½ Ehringhaus Street, the establishment was a popular gathering place for Elizabeth City’s African-American community. It served hot meals, beer, wine and ale, and, according to Hargraves’ ad, hosted “dancing every nite.”
Operating as it did during the era of segregation, the inn’s comfortable and friendly lodgings would have been just as important to weary African-American travelers as its promise of evening entertainment.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was the brainchild of Victor H. Green, a New York City postal worker. Published between 1933 and 1966, the Green Book was a vital directory for African-American travelers during the era of segregation. It guided them to lodging, restaurants, and other necessary services across the nation where they would be welcomed patrons who were treated with dignity and respect.
Such a service was necessary to provide the African-American traveler with information that would, Green wrote, “keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.” Among the thousands of businesses listed in the Green Book were 327 North Carolina establishments, including Elizabeth City’s Blue Duck Inn.
Recovering and sharing the stories of North Carolina’s Green Book businesses and other businesses that catered to African-American travelers is the mission of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s “Green Book Project: African American Travel in NC, 1933-1966.”
To complete the project, the AAHC is seeking people who remember traveling through North Carolina during the era of segregation as well as business owners, families, or community members who are willing to share their memories about businesses that welcomed African-American patrons during that time. Green Book project team members are also seeking photographs and other memorabilia related to these businesses and to the African-American travel experience in North Carolina.
Dubbed “Oasis Spaces,” North Carolina’s Green Book Project will result in a website and an traveling exhibit. The project is sponsored by a grant awarded to the NCAAHC from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Potential contributors should call (336) 891-0288 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa N. Stuckey, Ph.D. is assistant professor of history in the Department of Social Sciences, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Elizabeth City State University. She is also a board member of Friends of the Museum of the Albemarle.