Booker T. Motel

Booker T. Motel is a simple pair of single story, gable-front motel buildings
Booker T. Motel

Photograph by Holly Barnett, courtesy of Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
607 West Main Street Humboldt, Tennessee
African American History, Commerce
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 100002750
The Booker T. Motel was listed in the National Register on July 25, 2018 and is significant in African American history and commerce in Humboldt, Tennessee. Constructed in 1954, the motel and barbeque restaurant accommodated African Americans who were traveling from Memphis to Nashville. The motel had the distinction of being advertised in the Green Book and featured in Ebony magazine. The period of significance ends in 1970, when the owners, Alfred and Velva Pulliam sold the business. Mr. Pulliam was well known for his pit barbeque and special sauce sold in the motel’s restaurant and coffee shop.The motel’s barbeque restaurant was also one of the only places in the area where African-American guests did not have to enter through a segregated back door and is an important example of a Black-owned barbeque restaurant.

During this period accommodations for traveling African Americans were few and far between. Strategically, the motel was located near the intersection of U.S. Highways 79 and 70A in the midst of Humboldt’s business district. The establishment became one of the few places African Americans could stop and stay while traveling.Much of the early-twentieth century roadside history does not hold much for African-American travelers who, due to segregation nationwide, were forced to plan trips carefully as accommodations and even places to stop and eat could be hard or impossible to find. Up until 1964 and even later, African Americans feared traveling because of the possible dangers that awaited them on their route. Stopping to use the restroom or grabbing a bite to eat was out of the question. Meals had to be packed in ways so not to ruin and roadside restroom stops were very unpleasant. Finding motels they could stay in made travel for African Americans more enjoyable.

The Negro Travelers Green Book originated in New York by mail carrier Victor H. Green in 1937 to give African-American’s direction on where they could stop or stay along their route to avoid unwanted dangers.This book became a survival guide to direct those individuals to “havens” along their journey. In Tennessee, throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s, accommodations remained hard to find for African American travelers staying outside urban areas. In the 1942 Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses, there are only sixteen entries for the entire state. In the Green Book the complete Tennessee listing for 1949 takes up less than a page with 12 tourist homes and 16 hotels spread throughout the state. Opening in 1954, the Booker T. Motel was quickly a success because by May 1955, owners had added the second motel building bringing the motel up to fifteen rooms, and completed the coffee shop, restaurant, and beauty shop. Even after segregation ended and the ownership changed in 1970, the motel went on to house, feed, and entertain people in the town while retaining most of its integrity including the original motel room plan and barbeque restaurant building.

Last updated: August 10, 2021