Two Virginias Green Book Tour: Mercer County, WV

The Green-Book
The Green-Book(WVVA)
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 3:15 PM EST
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (WVVA) - “The Negro Motorists Green Book” served as a navigation guide for African Americans from 1936 - 1967 to help them safely navigate the segregation era in the U.S.  It was the brainchild of New York City postman, Victor Hugo Green.  This motorists guide pointed travelers to businesses that would serve Black people, from hotels to restaurants, to auto repair shops and more.  There were two hotels listed in Bluefield , including one that has garners West Virginia historical marker erected in January 2022:  The Hotel Thelma.

Ms. Thelma Stone was the owner/operator of Hotel Thelma located at the intersection of Logan and Wayne Streets in the north side of Bluefield, West Virginia.  After World War II, Stone had the 18-room hotel built right next door to the other hotel listed in “The Green Book”, The Traveler’s Inn.  Stone raised her great niece, Dr. Carolyn Foster Bailey Lewis, in Hotel Thelma, from the age of six months through Lewis’ early teens,  “From what I understand there was the land over there available on Wayne, on the corner of Wayne and Logan and she walked into the Flat Top National Bank in 1947 and got the loan to purchase the land and to build the building.”, Dr. Lewis recalls.

The business benefited from its Green Book Listing, " I knew it drew business because we had people from everywhere to stop at the Hotel Thelma on their way to wherever they were going because they had a “Green Book” and they knew it was a good place to eat too much and too lodge.” said Dr. Lewis.  The guest register for Hotel Thelma included railroad workers, coal miners, and future superstar in the music industry, " I was a little girl so to me, it was just people coming through who were performing at the municipal auditorium.  They didn’t become famous until much, much, later because they were what we call on the Chitlin Circuit, played the small venues in Charleston and in Beckley, Bluefield, Roanoke, and all that.” said Dr. Lewis.

Hotel Thelma has been closed for decades, but a neighboring church purchased the property and they’re in the midst of renovating the structure.  There’s much more on Hotel Thelma, including some of the performers who were guests there in the link attached to this story.

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