"...a whole different world." Peninsula delegates team up to get markings for Virginia's Green Book locations

Bay Shore Hotel sign Hampton 2023
Virginia Green Book.jpg
The Green Book
Posted at 10:41 AM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 13:23:41-05

HAMPTON, Va. - The water washes on the shore the same way, but Buckroe Beach and the surrounding area look a lot different than 60 years ago. The rules are a lot different too.

Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) remembers seeking out the relief of the Chesapeake Bay's cool waters in the summer back then, but it wasn't so simple.

“We had to come down the same street that anyone else did, but we would go to the right and the white people would go to the left side of the beach," Ward recalled.

Delegate Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) 2023
Del. Jeion Ward stands at the site of what was once Bay Shore Beach. As a child, Ward says she wasn't allowed to visit neighboring Buckroe Beach, as it was "whites-only."

That's because in the era of segregation, Buckroe Beach was 'whites-only.' Black families could only enjoy the sun and surf at neighboring Bay Shore Beach, a destination for locals and out-of-towners, including musical acts like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Newport News native, Ella Fitzgerald.

Bay Shore was popular enough that it was added to the Green Book, a travel guide Black families used in the early-to-mid 20th century to find friendly businesses and locations while driving through the south.

"It was like the Bible for Black people who were on the road," said Ward.

Homes now sit on the site of Bay Shore. It became unused in the 1970s, following integration, though the memories still linger for Ward. She remembers having fun but wondering about the other side.

“I remember looking over to Buckroe Beach and I would see this big, big rollercoaster. All the signs were all lit up. It looked like a whole different world," she told News 3.

It's a story that jarred her colleague, who represents the neighboring Virginia House district.

"When I first heard this, (while) having a cup of coffee with Del. Ward, I was surprised," said Del. Mike Mullin, (D-Newport News). "I wanted to make sure that other people coming up here in Virginia had an opportunity to hear the story as well.”

Mullin introduced House Bill 1968, which reads in part:

" designate or approve supplementary signs for historic site signs identifying Green Book locations and businesses in the Commonwealth."

The idea is to clue travelers into which historic locations around Virginia were featured in the Green Book. Mullin says Bay Shore Beach is one of around 100 in Hampton Roads alone.

Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) 2023
Del. Mike Mullin introduced House Bill 1968, which would add markers to historic Green Book locations in Virginia.

Del. Ward spoke to the House of Delegates about the history of the Green Book and, in the last week of January, Mullin's bill passed unanimously, 100-0.

The bill has moved to the Senate, where Del. Mullin hopes it will be taken up and approved by the end of the month so Gov. Glenn Youngkin can sign it into law.

"We have the support of the governor, and my hope is we can have something to the governor's desk in the next couple of weeks," said Del. Mullin.

And if and when the legislation is signed, Mullin and Ward say they'd like to start installing Green Book signs at Bay Shore Beach.