RICHMOND (WAVY) – The House of Delegates gave us a rare example of bipartisanship last week. HB 1968, which seeks to memorialize sites named in the “Green Book,” passed with a unanimous 100-0 vote on Jan. 24. 

The bill would create 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.  

Commonly referred to as “The Green Book,” the “Negro Traveler’s Green Book” was a guide published during the Jim Crow era that allowed Black people to traverse the American South – and later most of the country – safely, while avoiding businesses operated by white segregationists. (If it sounds familiar, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen starred in a 2018 movie about it.) 

“That green book was a lifeline for so many African-American travelers, and here in the commonwealth, we are still commemorating those sites,” the bill’s sponsor, Del. Michael Mullin (D), said. “We know of about 315 of them still. Many have been lost to history, and so, what we are doing right now is we are going to put up roadside markers at the first 60 that we already have roadside markers at now.” 

Utilizing a collection hosted by the University of Virginia, we were able to find over 100 locations in Hampton Roads named in different editions of the book. According to the Architecture of the Negro Traveler’s Green Book, a majority of those sites have been demolished. Many existed in places that have since seen immense change. A small number, like the Booker T. Theatre (now the Attucks Theatre) in Norfolk, live on today. 

“A couple of them are at Buckroe Beach, for example, in Hampton, where we had a large and prosperous African American hotel that was there for almost 50 years,” Mullin said. “Ella Fitzgerald played there for multiple weeks out of the year, and that location is now lost, but many of your viewers probably remember there and probably remember vacationing there.” 

“So I’m hopeful that one of the first signs we’ll put up will be right there in Buckroe,” he added. 

Mullin said the inspiration for the bill came from another lawmaker, Del. Jeion Ward, who represents part of Hampton. In a conversation, Ward told him about riding in the backseat of her family’s car on long trips as a child. Her job: to guide her father where to go and where to stop, using a Green Book. 

“That old and a little bit beat-up copy of the ‘Green Book’ that she kept in her family for 40 years was the inspiration for her and I together, working in tandem, to carry a piece of legislation last year to create a list of all ‘Green Book’ sites,” Mullin said. “After we’ve had that success, now we’re going to be making roadside commemorations.” 

After passing the House, the bill was assigned to a committee in the Senate. If it passes a full Senate vote, it’ll head to the desk of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Mullin said Youngkin has already voiced his support for the bill. 

“I am hopeful that we will continue to have the broad, bipartisan support that we saw in the House, and I’m hopeful that we can be off to the governor’s desk in the next couple weeks,” Mullin said. 

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