Endangered African American Historic Sites

The Riverside Hotel - Clarksdale, Mississippi

 

First established in 1944 by Mrs. Z.L. Ratcliffe as a boarding house for Black lodgers at the site of the old G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital on Sunflower Avenue, where Bessie Smith died in 1937, the Riverside Hotel along the Mississippi Blues Trail was one of the only lodgings in the entire state that ccatered to non-white travelers during the Jim Crow era. The Green Book-listed Riverside Hotel hosted a multitude of famed blues musicians traveling through the Delta including blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson IIIke Turner, and Robert Nighthawk.

 

The Riverside, which is the only remaining Black-owned hotel with deep ties to blues history in the city of Clarksville,  has been non-operational since it was severely damaged by a major storm in April 2020. Current owner Joyce L. Ratcliffe and her daughter Zee Ratcliff are seeking help in the form of partnerships and outside funding to repair and reopen the 20-room property as both a place of respite for weary travelers and a living history museum-slash-shrine dedicated to its legendary past lodgers.


Threatt Filling Station - Luther, Oklahoma

The Threatt family homesteaded in the Luther area, a part of modern-day Oklahoma that was opened to United States settlement in 1889, after the Federal system of American Indian reservations and land allotments had been established. Like many African Americans at the time, the Threatts saw Oklahoma land as a great opportunity. They joined former slaves of local Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole owners, as well as former slaves from the southeast, in seeking greater security, economic opportunity, and racial solidarity in Oklahoma. The Threatt family raised crops on their farm, sold sandstone from their quarry, and, ultimately, opened and ran the filling station.

The filling station benefited from its proximity to Route 66. State Highway 7 formed the northern border of the Threatt farm, and as traffic on the road increased during the early decades of the 20th-century, Route 66's local alignment incorporated Highway 7.  Allen Threatt made a sensible business decision to take advantage of the farm's location and open the filling station.

From the mid 1910s through the 1950s, the Threatt Filling Station was a popular roadside stop for locals and travelers alike. The station was one of a very few places on Route 66 where people of color were welcome during an age when African American children setting out on trips asked their parents why they needed to carry so much food and water, as well as toilet paper and empty jars. Black adults growing up along Route 66 in Chicago just "knew which stretches they weren't allowed to use."


Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall - John Cabin, Maryland

 

In 1880, the formerly enslaved couple Robert and Sarah Gibson bought property on what is now Seven Locks Road in Cabin John, Maryland. By 1895 nine other black families had joined them in buying land here. Together these families built a self-reliant settlement, called Gibson Grove, later just No. 10.

 

In 1882, the community organized the first black school in the district. In 1885, it established Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 of the Order of Moses. This benevolent society helped members in times of need and in death. Its Moses Hall and Cemetery were adjacent to each other. By the 1880s the community was on the church circuit; in 1898 Sarah Gibson gave land to formally establish the Gibson Grove AME Zion Church. The school for the local black children never had a dedicated building; it was alternatively housed in the church and the Moses Hall lodge.

 

The Moses Hall foundation in Cabin John is the last known surviving remnant of an Order of Moses hall in Montgomery County.


Sarah E. Ray House - Detroit, Michigan

In 1945, over a decade before Rosa Parks famously defied Jim Crow segregation laws, another Black woman in Detroit, Michigan won an important case in the United States Supreme Court. Because of her race, Sarah Elizabeth Ray had been denied passage aboard the steamship SS Columbia on an excursion to Bob-Lo Island. According to the assistant general manager of the Bob-Lo Excursion Company, which operated the steamship, it had a policy of excluding "'Zoot-suiters,' the rowdyish, the rough, and the boisterous, and… colored."

Ray then went to the NAACP, where she filed a criminal complaint against the Bob-lo Company. 

The local courts ruled in Ms. Ray's favor. The owners of the line appealed to the Michigan State Supreme Court, which subsequently also ruled in Ms. Ray's favor. The Bob-lo Company then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to hold the state's civil rights act unconstitutional because it infringed upon the power of Congress to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. In a historic ruling, The Court upheld the Michigan civil rights. Bob-Lo Excursion Co. v. People of the State of Michigan, 333 U.S. 28 affirmed the ruling of the lower courts, signaling the Supreme Court's willingness to protect the civil rights of Black Americans. This case would prove crucial in paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education.


ANNAPOLIS, MD. — Rita Coates fought a feeling of panic as the water gushed toward the graves.

Coates, a longtime member of the Brewer Hill Cemetery Association, watched a torrent of stormwater wash over this historic African American graveyard last year, erasing the engravings on headstones and the legacies they represented.

"All the water was running through washing away the soil from the graves," Coates recalled in a recent interview with E&E News. "There were some grave markers that were so ruined or messed up that you could not tell the names on them."

Brewer Hill Cemetery is the oldest Black graveyard in Annapolis. It contains the remains of more than 7,000 slaves and freed African Americans who were not allowed to be buried alongside white people.

Maryland highway officials committed to avoid a historical African American cemetery when adding toll lanes to the Capital Beltway after 27 "probable" or "possible" unmarked graves were detected along the highway this summer, a state archaeologist said...

Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation's heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. More than 300 places have been listed in its 34-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.

The 2021 list of Virginia's Most Endangered Historic Places reflects immediate threats to historic places that represent the complexity of our history, issues of equity, climate change and environmental justice, and the meaningful and intrinsic value that places of history provide in our communities.

Black cemeteries are scattered throughout the United States, telling the story of the country's deep past of cemetery segregation.

A school building that Preservation Virginia mistakenly thought was lost was recently found. During an ATV ride through the woods of Mecklenburg County, Heather Minter and her family came across a school building near Boydton, Virginia. She provided photographs to Preservation Virginia, and after researching the images and the location, we determined that it was the Shiloh Rosenwald School.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced its annual list of most endangered places. One of the places on the list is the National Negro Opera Company House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago has severe structural issues, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The South Side church where 14-year-old Emmett Till's battered body was displayed in an open casket, lighting fire to the Civil Rights Movement, was designated one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places on Thursday, an annual list that brings preservation support.

A preservation group's annual list of Indiana's most endangered historic structures is out. The list includes two schools that provided unprecedented learning opportunities to African Americans - Gary Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana and Union Literary Institute in Union City, Indiana.

The Pine Tree Hotel was one of the few beach hotels open to African Americans in South Carolina during segregation in the 1960s. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 badly damaged the landmark, and it hasn't been open since.

The 14-room hotel still sits boarded up on James Island in Charleston, but a new $490,000 grant will help pay to restore the historic site near Mosquito Beach, according to the Historic Charleston Foundation.