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Black Travelers and Businesses on Route 66

By Joan Hampton-Porter,

Curator, History Museum on the Square

The experience of traveling Route 66 was not the same for all Americans. Black travelers during the time of segregation had additional challenges beyond breakdowns, running out of gas, road conditions, getting lost, and the weather. Some businesses would not serve Black Americans, so the traveling experience brought with it the concern that service might not be available if there was a problem or even a basic need. There were travel guides, such as The Green Book that listed some Black-owned businesses. However, not all Black-owned businesses were in it, nor were all of the white-owned businesses that welcomed the business of Black Americans.

Springfield had a thriving Black business community that primarily served the local community, but two prominent Black businesses also served travelers: Graham’s Rib Station and Alberta’s Hotel.

Graham’s Rib Station was one of only two barbeque restaurants in Springfield when it opened during the Great Depression. It was patronized by people of all races. In addition to the restaurant, there was a tourist court with cabins. Many famous people ate and stayed at Graham’s Owned by Zelma and James Graham it was known far and wide for its sauce. The businesses closed after James died, but Zelma sold the sauce in local grocery stores for many years.

Alberta’s Hotel was located in the former hospital for Black Americans. It was owned by Alberta Ellis. This three-story house, in addition to having rooms for rent, had many other amenities. It included a dining room, beauty parlor, barber shop, snack bar, and a lounge. There was also the “farm” just outside of town where overflow guests and special events could be accommodated. The Harlem Globe Trotters stayed at Alberta’s on at least one occasion.

To learn more, you can visit the History Museum on the Square. Graham’s Rib Station and Alberta’s Hotel are showcased in the permanent Route 66 gallery. Several stories of Black, Springfieldians’ experiences on Route 66 are included in the temporary exhibit Service with a Smile: Route 66 Service Stations.

Image: Double-sided, neon Graham’s Rib Station sign at the History Museum on the Square

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