HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin joined Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck to unveil the first of Virginia’s Green Book markers Thursday at what was once the Bay Shore Hotel in Buckroe Beach.
You may be familiar with the Academy Award-winning movie “Green Book,” inspired by the true story of an African American pianist traveling in the deep south in 1962.
Well, the new state law that made Thursday’s commemoration possible was also inspired by a true story — that of Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton.
“Faced with the terrible institution of segregation, some very smart Black businessmen, in the late 19th century, turned this spot into the vacation paradise of the South for African Americans,” said Hampton Mayor, Donnie Tuck. “They had an amusement park, a board walk and and legendary dance hall. They say the music was so good that the White vacationer over at Buckroe would jump over the fence to come listen.”
It was a home away from home for people not welcome in other places, a place featured in Green Books used by Black families, including Ward’s, who shared her story on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I got to be able to look over her family’s Green Book with Del. Ward,” said Del. Mike Mullin (D-93rd Dist.), who introduced the legislation in the House of Delegates allowing for the creation of the roadside historical markers at the sites of former restaurants, hotels, gas stations and other businesses that catered to Black travelers during the Jim Crow era. “That just was such a wonderful inspiration for me that she and I put together a bill that became what we see today.”
The governor helped unveil the marker, which is the first of at least 60 that will recognize Green Book sites.
“And I do hope that Virginians, and Americans and friends from around the world who are traveling, will stop and read each one to learn about the places,” Youngkin said.
Helen Phillips Pitts, the granddaughter of John Mallory Phillips, said she had been emotional all week understanding the role her grandfather had.
“I had no idea until I was grown that my grandfather was part of this group of men that started Bayshore Beach.”
According to research done by the University of Virginia, there were more than 300 businesses catering to Black travelers between 1936 and 1967.
“You think about your community — what you want for your grandchildren when they grow up — that to me is the most important thing,” Phillips Pitts said. “It’s why we have kids to do better than we did in the past.”