Franklin's Once Hidden Legacy

Green Book House

“The legacy that was hidden is now revealed.” These are the profound words of Dr. Kenneth Hill, leader of Franklin’s Shorter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Franklin is known as being a historic community for many reasons, with one
significant piece of history – associated with Shorter Chapel – discovered just a few short years ago.

Going back in time to 1936, travel for Black people was considered not only risky but downright dangerous. So dangerous in fact that a guidebook, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was published annually by Victor H. Green from 1936-1966 for African American travellers. This book provided a list of hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations, and other establishments throughout the country that safely served Black patrons.

This “Green Book” eventually came to be known as the “Bible of Black Travel,” and was an invaluable reference guide during this 30-year period when discrimination against African Americans was so widespread.

Until the release of the movie “Green Book” in 2018, many of us may not have been familiar with what a “Green Book” house actually was. This Oscar-winning movie was inspired by the true story of African American pianist Don Shirley’s tour of the Deep South with his Italian American driver and bodyguard. Included in this book was a listing by Franklin resident Ruth Gaylor, who opened her modest Natchez Street home to Black travellers, listing her business as “Mrs. E. B. Gaylord’s Guest House.” The Natchez Street neighborhood was the hub for the African American community at that time.

Once this revelation came to light, The African American Historical Society of Franklin set its sights on honoring this era, and in particular Mrs. Gaylord’s ”Green Book” home. Led by Alma McLemore, preservationist Mary Pierce, Pam Lewis, and local and county historians Thelma Battle and Rick Warrick, they combined efforts to help produce a historical marker for the home in 2020. “The end result is that another treasured property of the Natchez community was saved," says Dr. Kenneth Hill.

Mrs. Gaylord’s “Green Book” House, located at 255 Natchez Street, is owned and operated by the Shorter Chapel AME Church, located next door to the home and the oldest African American denomination in the United States. Shorter Chapel is currently under the leadership of Kenneth H. Hill, Ph.D and recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.

The Chapel is currently working with MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation to determine the best way to share the home’s deep history within the community and its connection to the wider story in the United States. The long-term goal is for Mrs. Gaylord’s “Green Book” House to be restored and included in a larger plan for interpreting the deeper story of the Natchez Street neighborhood.

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