by S. Rotan Hale
Dumas Hotel Legacy, Inc. (DHL) held its “Legacy Ball” Saturday, Aug. 3 at Hotel Roanoke. The sizable crowd of supporters gathered engaged in an evening of fine dining, an auction, dancing and other highlights that made for a very special event.
What was even more special however, was a talk by Calvin Alexander Ramsey author/playwright of several books and plays his most celebrated work The Green Book is a two-act play about the difficulties African-Americans faced while traveling during the Jim Crow era.
The original book The Negro Motorist Green Book, by Hugo Green, first published in 1936, was known as “the bible of Black travel during Jim Crow. For Blacks, it was a map to lodgings, businesses and gas stations that would safely serve them while traveling. Prior to Ramsey’s presentation at the ball, David Burnette performed (rote) an impressive monologue that was just suited for the occasion, considering the affair’s theme.
“Come hear a story of a time long past–of a street of Black-owned businesses with the Hotel Dumas in the center with elegance and class.”
Burnette delivered the perfect elegy that captured the spirit of “The Yard,” the district (a single street–its heyday, circa 40’s thru the 60’s) where the Dumas was located.
“When we say Dumas, we say us,” said Martin Jeffrey, DHL board member and a major organizer of the affair.
“The Dumas was not just a place for Roanoke’s Black community, it was the place for Black and White to come together, socialize and enjoy Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown etc. who would spend time there,” said Jeffrey reflecting on the historic hotel’s legacy.
Speaking for the family was none other than Darthula “Baby Mac” Barlow whose family owned the hotel.
“I had a fantastic life–a very unique life, because all of the top musicians who had orchestras or bands played in the hotel’s ballroom or at the nearby (Star City Auditorium),”
Barlow also mentioned her fondness for the (original) Harlem Globetrotters and having the privilege of meeting and getting autographs, which she still has, from such greats as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, The Drifters and others.
In her closing remarks, Barlow thanked everyone at the affair who “came to celebrate and carry on the legacy of my grandfather (“Big Mac” Barlow), my father (“Little Mac”) and most importantly the Dumas Hotel.”
Calvin Ramsey as the affair’s keynote speaker sat in a gold high-back armchair and delivered a flood of information regarding The Green Book project. In a most unassuming manner, he gave account of his extraordinary life that led to him becoming an author and playwright and the incredible journey that followed. However the bulk of his talk centered around his undertaking of The Green Book that has since been turned into a feature-length film.
As a prolific writer, Ramsey, a Baltimore, MD native, has gained both national and international acclaim due to the creative and fascinating approach embodied in his works. In addition to The Green Book, such controversial works include: Shermantown, Baseball, Apple Pie and the Klan, a play about a Ku Klux Klan rally held near a poor Black neighborhood in Stone Mountain, GA.
One of his various books, Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story is an account of a mule in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, who played a singular part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Ultimately after Dr. King’s assassination, two mules from Gee’s Bend pulled the farm wagon bearing his casket through the streets of Atlanta.
Ramsey’s projects, including his seminars and talks, have been featured at venues world-wide, and remain the topic of much discussion regarding the struggles of Blacks in Jim Crow America.
The Baltimore, MD native grew up in Roxboro, NC and has lived a life many only wish for. He says much of his work is guided by an African proverb, “When an old person dies, its like a library burning down.”