Let me begin by giving you the facts. There are approximately 50 hotels and inns on the National Register of Historic Places in Tennessee. (I recently discovered a slew of them within historic districts as well as others whose secondary function was to act as a hotel.) According to my research, the “Colored Hotel” in Union City (approximately 3 hours from Nashville in the Northwest corner of the state) is only African-American one listed in the state and it was only recently placed on the registry in 2008.
But you see, I knew that at the start of the project. In my mind, locating and documenting additional sites just made sense. (During segregation, African-Americans were not allowed to stay at the majority of white-owned and operated establishments. This made travel much for difficult for African-Americans and gave rise to hotels and boarding houses catered to their needs. A great source at the time and still today is Victor Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Guide, An International Travel Guide published 1936-1966.) The history of historic hotels and inns in Tennessee would be incomplete without addressing African-American establishments and a sample of one would not be sufficient. My research would both highlight a research need as well as provide groundwork for others to do National Register nominations in the future.
Yesterday’s visit to Union City changed my perspective. I now feel an urgency to get additional properties identified and listed. While National Register listing will not save a property from decay or even the wrecking-ball, it at the very least provides a lasting historical record (text & photographs.) It will bring to the forefront the importance of these establishments in local communities and taken together their importance to the nation.
I, perhaps naively, assumed that the “Colored Hotel” would be more or less the same as described in the nomination. Unfortunately, I found that the last 7+ years have not be kind to the building. Many of the windows that had been boarded up are no longer so and those without boards are missing much or all of their glass. This exposed the interior to the elements and apparently caused the ceiling to cave-in even more places (I did not enter the building but took photos through the broken panes of glass.) There is also evidence, in the form of bottles and cans, that building is used as a meeting place of sorts. Securing the building — from the elements, animals, pests and people — will be an important part of its preservation and will help to slow down the rate of decay in the short term. If you are interested in learning more about the building and plans for its future, please see the Colored Hotel Heritage Foundation.
Exterior shot. Banner reads, “Future Home of the Colored Hotel Museum & Outreach Center.” Photo taken yesterday.