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More Than Just a Home: Historic Magnolia House

Magnolia House Project ^Students meet with community partners about the Historic Magnolia House. Courtesy Michael Harris, UNC Greensboro.

From 2019 to 2020, UNCG History/Museum Studies students collaborated with the Historic Magnolia House to capture the site’s importance and powerful history. They researched, designed, and implemented an exhibition that details the history of this house. Composed of seven panels and four educational lesson plans, The Magnolia Hotel: More than Just Home details multiple aspects of the site’s history. It covers the Green Book’s creation and dissemination throughout the country and the story of the Gist family who purchased and reimaged the home, making it into a prominent hotel for African Americans. The exhibition also explores the civic and civil rights importance of the site in Greensboro history, the rise of the hotel’s fame as it provided housing for notable stars, and the recent restoration and preservation of the property by the Pass family. The exhibit is on display at the Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Community Scanning Day Flyer ^Flyer from Community Scanning Day organized by students.

The graduate student cohort worked on the project over the course of three semesters in their required Museum Studies classes: Museum and Historic Site Interpretation, The Practice of Public History, and Community History Practicum. They conducted primary and secondary source research and some students held interviews with members of the Pass family and other community members. They also hosted a community scanning day at the Greensboro Public Library – Chavis Branch and the Magnolia House. Finally, the students designed and fabricated the exhibition, marketing it to the public and organizing two virtual events to mark the launch. You can read the blog for this project, written in the final months as it was completed, at https://makingmagnoliahouseexhibit.medium.com/.

Constructed in 1889, the Historic Magnolia House is one of four Green Book sites still in operation in North Carolina. In the late 1940s, an African-American family, the Gist family, purchased the home and transformed it into the Magnolia Hotel. Opening in 1949, it became a well-known haven for African American travelers during the Jim Crow era. In 1955, the Magnolia Hotel began advertisement in the Green Book, and it continued to appear throughout multiple issues. Operating for over 30 years, the hotel closed in the 1980s. Samuel Pass became the new owners of the home in 1995, and he began working to preserve the historic integrity of the house, document the site’s significance, and maintain its operations.

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