Reclaim historic black-owned businesses in Elizabeth City

ELIZABETH CITY, NC — At nearly 90, Joyce Long has lived a full life, but the memories of her childhood are still colorful.

“I was born and raised here on Herrington Road. Back then it was called Euclid Avenue,” she said from her home in Elizabeth City. “It was just a nice neighborhood.”

Although he grew up in segregated North Carolina, Long remembers a friendly neighborhood where black and white neighbors generally got along…but for black families visiting the South by car, friendly encounters were not guaranteed.

Sabella, Antoine

Joyce Long (L) chats with Dr. Melissa Stuckey (R), whose Beyond the Green Book project is rediscovering businesses and homes in the neighborhood where Long grew up.

“Stopping in the wrong place could be the difference between getting home safely after a trip or not getting home at all,” said Dr Melissa Stuckey, assistant professor of history at the University of Elizabeth City State.

And so the “Green Book” became a lifeline.

“The Green Book is a directory created by Victor H. Green,” Stuckey said. “(It was) a guide to African American businesses or businesses that hosted African Americans.”

The book inspired “Green Book”, winner of the 2018 Best Picture Oscar, and according to the North Carolina African American Heritage CommissionElizabeth City only had two locations released in the local version.

But Stuckey thinks that number is just scratching the surface.

The green book

Provided by Dr. Melissa Stuckey

A photo from a 1940 edition of The Green Book.

“You were stopping at those first two places, but that opened up everyone in Elizabeth City to a traveler who came here,” she told News 3.

Over the past year, Stuckey and his students have been deepening their project called “Beyond the Green Book”.

Now in its third semester, the project uses old city directories, maps, African-American newspapers and interviews to reconstruct black life in Elizabeth City’s historic Shepard Street-South Road Street neighborhood. Stuckey says they’re focusing on 1942, the year of the Green Book that inspired the project. She tells News 3 that she and her students took the two official Green Book businesses and added 73 more locations in and around the neighborhood.

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Dr Melissa Stuckey

Dr. Melissa Stuckey and her history class use Google Earth to map all the places they find. The two original Green Book locations in Elizabeth City are marked with green pins, but almost completely covered by the added locations marked in yellow and blue. Stuckey says so far they’ve mapped 73 additional locations.

Kept in a Google Earth file, locations include grocery stores, restaurants, hair salons, a funeral home and more. Many businesses have been discovered by students following Stuckey’s class.

Long says she heard about the project through the Albemarle Museum, through which Stuckey gave a presentation about her project in the fall. She tells News 3 that she was thrilled to hear that younger generations are taking an interest in her old neighborhood.

“I said, ‘Thank God, thank God. I’ll help you any way I can,'” Long said as he welcomed Stuckey to his dining room.

Long had pulled out old letters, journals, and photos. Stuckey also shared what she discovered about the print shop that Long’s father ran.

Dr. Stuckey teacher

ECSU

Dr. Melissa Stuckey in front of her class as she endeavors to uncover black-owned and pro-black businesses in 1942 Elizabeth City.

“As more and more people know about the work, I have the chance to talk to older people who have very vivid and powerful memories,” Stuckey said. “(We need) to have conversations, to do interviews and to really put this story together before it’s too late to tell it with living memory.”

With her latest group of students, Stuckey says she hopes to expand the scope of her project and digitize the materials she finds.

Eventually, she hopes to establish a research center on the ECSU campus dedicated to the study of African-American education and life in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

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