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National Trust gives $3 million to sites linked to Black history

Black History Funds
Posted at 1:11 PM, Jul 22, 2021

Tell the whole story. That’s the goal as $3 million is awarded by the National Trust to sites vital to Black history.

One place that’s been around since the early 1900s is now looking to bring back a very special room.

The story goes, in the old days of the Hotel Metropolitan in Paducah, Kentucky, there'd be a slice of pie for the man playing guitar on the porch and slices of pie waiting for the guests in the rooms upstairs.

"Food had a real part in the hotel,” said Betty Dobson, who runs the hotel today. "Food is the way most Black people express their love."

Dobson said there's something you should know about who was being served those slices of pie.

"Oh, you wanted that pie story?" she smiled.

The man on the porch? That was BB King. The guests in the rooms upstairs? That was any number of musicians, so famous that their faces are on murals across the country. They were acts like Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Moms Mabley.

"Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Billie Holliday," Dobson listed off. "It still excites me to come through these doors cause those famous souls were here."

Dobson will tell you the place that's key to the Hotel Metropolitan's story is an unassuming little building around the back.

"The Purple Room," she said, unlocking a door to a two-room building with dirt floors.

Before their gigs in Paducah, this was the space where the acts would rehearse, meaning this little neighborhood had free admission, front porch seats to hear the greats.

"Folks were dancing!” Dobson laughed. “It sounded like Mardi Gras in there! It kinda tells you there was some fun in here."

Dobson remembers her work in the room.

"If your suit needed pressing, I could take care of you here at the hotel," Dobson continued, showing an old suit presser in the Purple Room.

Dobson said the presser and the barber station at the hotel were things born out of necessity.

In the 1940 edition of the Green Book, an on-the-road guide for Black travelers to find safe places, there were only two hotels listed for Paducah. Dobson shared, it was in the years of Jim Crow laws, the Purple Room had to be here as rehearsal space.

"The venues were white,” she explained. “It was intolerable to have you there in the daytime if you were a Black entertainer. Once they got to here, being owned mainly by women, I can see that compassion to say, ‘Come on in, baby. I know it's been hard, but you done made it here. Go on upstairs and lay down, get you some rest, and we'll make a plan tomorrow.’"

Dobson said something has just come along to help her tell the story of the people who stayed in these rooms.

The National Trust has just awarded $3 million to 40 different sites important to Black history, including the Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Atlanta, Georgia, the Sarah Rector Mansion in Kansas City, Missouri, and an unassuming little building around the back of the Hotel Metropolitan.

Dobson wants to use the funds to restore the Purple Room, to make it a gathering space again.

"If I'm here or not, the dream is to make the Hotel Metropolitan story whole," she said.