During the Jim Crow era, the Historic Magnolia House was a Green Book site and hosted Black writers, athletes, and musicians, from James Brown and Tina Turner to Jackie Robinson and James Baldwin. It's currently a living museum and recently reopened as a bed and breakfast. WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with owner Natalie Pass-Miller about welcoming new patrons to this historic space.
On Natalie Pass-Miller's family's relationship to the Magnolia House:
My dad and I, we both grew up in the same neighborhood as the Historic Magnolia House. And my dad, Samuel Pass, he was one of the knuckleheads that would be running up and down the street, you know, looking to see what that fancy car that's pulling up, or who's getting out of the car ... and I think it was Joe Tex he got an autograph on the front porch from. And so that's, you know, that's how he resonated with the house. That's how he experienced it as a young kid. And so growing up, when the house came up for sale, he jumped right at the opportunity to purchase it with the intent to be able to restore and preserve its history and what it represented. So it being a bed and breakfast has always been a part of the overall goal.
On historical documents or primary sources they consulted in their renovations:
So I would say it was a mix of some documentation research, we had a really good partnership with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. We worked with them to help in terms of identifying some information and background. Oral stories have been a big component for us. When we think about Black history, and uncovering of that history, documenting, it wasn't a big thing for us to do, historically. And so sometimes, having to rely on the oral histories, is quite critical. And we're finding that more and more today as we go through not just with Magnolia House, but in general, having to pull into that oral component because the documents are hard to come by.
On what a visitor today will see as compared to a visitor in the 50s and 60s:
Today, when they walk through the house as of December of this past 2021, they would actually be walking through a 100 percent replica of the functioning Green Book hotel, from the 50s and 60s, which is our overall goal when we think about creating that immersive learning experience. So walking through the same doors, you know, when James Baldwin and James Brown would come stay, we've opened up the guest rooms where they would say. So it is truly an authentic Green Book traveling experience all the way from dining to staying overnight. That's what they would experience today when they walk through the doors.
On other things happening at the Magnolia House:
We've reopened our Sunday brunches. So every Sunday between 11 and 3, we are super excited to open our doors to the community and they just come in and you know, they can spend the day with us and the house. And we miss that a lot. Because a lot of our brunchers had those oral stories and they were able to relive those moments and we could share that with them.
During COVID we also worked with the UNCG students around our STEM program and launched that with our virtual reality preservation technology and the programming with that. So there's going to be more work going on in that space in terms of telling these stories. So we've got quite a bit going on. But we're just really excited to be back in business, and we just ask the community to come on back and join us in this movement that we've got. It's just getting started.
*Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.