by Katrina Smith
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development recently announced they were giving more than $4 million to historical landmarks to renovate and preserve Tennessee’s historic buildings. The Booker T. Motel was approved for a grant to preserve the historic building in Humboldt.
The history behind the Booker T. Motel is rich and one that is educational, in more ways than one. In 1954, the Civil Rights movement began. Segregation laws made it difficult for African Americans travelling from the south to Middle Tennessee and beyond. They could not enter white owned businesses without being harassed. They could not get a room for an overnight stay. During this time, African Americans were beaten, ridiculed and some even killed.
The Booker T. Motel was constructed in 1954 and its location was in an ideal location, along Highway 79 and 70A. This building was built to give those travelers safety while they were passing through. They could walk through the front doors, enjoy good food and fellowship without fearing for any harm to their lives
The founders of the black owned business were Alfred and Velva Pulliam. Mr. Pulliam was well-known for his barbeque and special sauce. The sauce was sold in the motel’s restaurant and coffee shop. The Pulliams sold the business in 1970 to Ollie James Armour and his wife, Shirlene Armour. The Armours ran a successful business building onto the legacy that was placed before them. After Mr. Armour passed away, his wife worked the business as long as she could.
The building was vacant for a little while but was eventually sold to Eliga Glenn. Glenn knew the importance of the history behind the hotel and pit; after taking ownership, he opened it up to allow young business hopefuls to get a taste of entrepreneurship while honing their crafts.
The business continued to operate under new management and was listed in the National Register of historical places on July 25, 2018. This motel is significant to the African American history and commerce in Humboldt.
“Tennessee’s historic buildings are a contributing factor to what makes our communities unique, and I applaud each of these grant recipients for taking on the task of rehabilitating and preserving these sites,” said TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe, in a press release. “We are pleased to be a part of this program, which helps restore these structures while spurring additional economic and tourist development opportunities in each of these communities.”
There are 26 historical landmarks across Tennessee approved for grants and four of those are in West Tennessee. The other cities were Union City, Brownsville, Martin and Dyersburg.
“It’s not about me, but it is about our people,” said Eliga Glenn, current owner of the historical Booker T. Motel. “It is about preservation of the landmark. I want the legacy to live in the community, giving the young people an opportunity to learn how to be business owners. I want them to know the contributions we have made in American society.”