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Tennessee woman discovers family's Green Book history

Green Book site on Murfreesboro's State Street
Posted at 7:35 AM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 14:08:54-05

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A local woman recently learned about her family's important role in keeping Black travelers safe during the Jim Crow era South.

It's only right that Dorothy Orr would end up the family historian. Her family couldn't be more important to her, as evidenced by the beautifully framed pictures of her children in her home.

"High school pictures," Orr said. "This is my youngest daughter's picture."

She turned her attention to a picture from the early 20th century.

"Her name was Jane Baugh-Hoover," Orr said.

The picture is of Orr's great-grandmother, who rose out of slavery to run a boarding house across town.

"She bought the home, a balance of $150 that she paid for, and she was debt-free," Orr said.

Orr recently found out there's something truly special about her great-grandmother's house.

In the Jim Crow era, Black travelers on the road would have to be wary of "sundown towns" — places where the laws enforced racial segregation.

Amidst segregation, Black travelers riding through Murfreesboro knew they'd arrived at a safe place when they saw the home of Jane Baugh-Hoover.

"They had no other place to stay, and that was the perfect place to find shelter and comfort," Orr said.

After Baugh-Hoover's death in 1928, Orr's grandparents — Garfield and Fannie Hoover — took over the house. It eventually became known as a listed site in the Green Book, a guide of safe places for Black travelers from the 1930s through the '60s.

Orr had no idea about the house's Green Book history until she got a call from the African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County.

"This was a strong woman of courage," Orr said. "She stepped outside the box. She was trying to help other people at that time. I wish I could have known her."

Baugh-Hoover's home is among a number of still-standing Green Book sites in Middle Tennessee, including a house on Natchez Street house in Franklin and the R&R Liquor Store on Jefferson Street. They're now rarities, as many Green Book sites have been lost over time.

The family that currently owns the house said they had no idea about the Green Book history when they started renting it.

The pride swelled out of Orr when she recently leafed through a copy of the Green Book to find her great-grandmother's home.

"Oh my goodness," she said. "This is such a good feeling. It makes me very proud, very proud of my family.

Orr hopes the site will someday include a historical marker.

This story was originally published by Forrest Sanders on Scripps station WTVF in Nashville.