Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Alberta’s Hotel: providing safety, comfort to Springfield's Black travelers

Alberta's Hotel
Bailey Vassalli
Alberta's Hotel - Alberta's Hotel Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Missouri State University

Just south of Chestnut Expressway, between the Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield Municipal Court building, once stood Alberta’s Hotel. The site is just a parking lot now, but its history extends way beyond the pavement.

Alberta Ellis
Bailey Vassalli
Alberta Ellis - Alberta's Hotel Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Missouri State University

Alberta Northcutt Ellis opened her three-story Victorian house hotel the early 1950s to provide African Americans traveling along Route 66 a safe place to stay because the law then required so-called “separate but equal” accommodations for Black travelers. The hotel quickly became a hotspot for families and entertainers, including Frankie Lymon and the Harlem Globe Trotters.

In 2019, I interviewed Alberta’s grandson, Irv Logan, who lived and worked at the hotel for a time. He remembers interacting with the guests.

“That was the part that I enjoyed the most, you know, because you never knew who was going to come. And I had the opportunity to meet people then as a youth that I had no idea who they were coming from out of town or how important they were, you know, any of that. I just knew that they were interesting,” said Logan.

During its heyday, the hotel was listed in The Green Book, a travel guide for African Americans published from 1936 to 1967. In those days, Black travelers could easily be in danger due to violence fueled by racism.

“I know Irv talks about it a little bit, you just didn’t stop. There’s a part where he talks about his grandpa making food before they’d go out because you didn’t stop on the trip. And if you had to stop, you hoped you ran into the right person.”

That’s Tracie Gieselman-Holthaus of Missouri State University’s Special Collections and Archives, also interviewed in 2019. Irv Logan and his sisters, Elizabeth and Jeannie, donated their collection of family photos and other artifacts from the hotel to the university.

Logan’s grandmother, Alberta, also set aside space in her hotel for other people to work and earn a living.

“Not only did she provide a service to the community, but she also offered opportunities to other members of the community – the minority community – the chance to go into business. So there was a beauty shop, there was a barber shop, and there was the Rumpus Room,” said Logan.

Alberta's Hotel Business Card
Bailey Vassalli
Alberta's business card on her Tourist Register for hotel guests - Alberta's Hotel Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Missouri State University

In the 50s and 60s, that area was a hub for Springfield’s Black community.

Just around the corner was the famous Graham’s Rib Station, owned and operated by James and Zelma Graham. It was a popular dining spot along Route 66. There were seven stone cabins behind the restaurant — the only other place in town where Black travelers could get a room.

“The two of them (Mr. Graham and Alberta) used to refer back and forth between them. If Mr. Graham was full and people came, he would refer them to Alberta and vice versa. Alberta would refer them to Mr. Graham if her place was full,” said Logan.

Logan said the two entrepreneurs had a solid working relationship.

"Because, you know, it was really all about the travelers, the people who were coming through. There weren’t many other places where folks could go and be safe that they knew about. And so they just helped each other as best they could,” said Logan.

Growing up at the hotel, young Irv Logan learned about the unfairness of segregation.

“In 1960, when Alberta’s business was really booming, she got a call and said that Nat King Cole was going to be in Springfield and that he would need accommodations. And he would need meals and all that stuff at the hotel. And I asked my grandmother, ‘Well, why is he coming here?’ And she says, ‘Well, he’s gonna be performing for the Kennedy-Nixon debate that’s scheduled for Springfield,’ up at the, I think the Kentwood Arms at that time. And I says, ‘Well, if he’s going to be playing for them, why does he have to stay here?’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, that’s the law. He can’t stay there.’ And I didn’t realize what he had already been through in Birmingham, Alabama,” said Logan.

Four years earlier, in 1956, Cole had been performing on stage when a group of Ku Klux Klan members rushed the stage and attacked him.

Events like this pushed Logan to help start a NAACP Youth College Chapter when he was in school. He says he had both Black and white friends join.

“Change comes from below. And it comes from common people doing the right thing. And basically, that’s what our classmates did back then. We had a desire to see things change and to see everyone be treated the same,” said Logan.

The group protested the laws that kept African Americans from staying at most white establishments.

“And I remember Alberta sitting with me when it was all said and done and she said, ‘You know, you’re doing it for the right reason, but it’s going to cost you personally.’ I says, ‘What do you mean?’ She says, ‘All that we work for here will be gone, because when integration comes and people are able to go wherever they want to go and spend their money wherever they want to spend their money, they’ll go to new places, different places, you know. And, so, it’ll affect all of this.’ And it hadn’t occurred to me, as a youth, that in fact, that’s exactly what happened. But it didn’t just happen to Alberta and her business. It happened all across the country,” said Logan.

Finally, in 1964, The Civil Rights Act passed, ending the so-called “separate but equal” rule—and by 1965, the hotel had closed.

Alberta’s Hotel is now a stop on the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail. The trail links several important sites in Springfield’s Black history and Alberta’s legacy will continue to run strong. Her grandson, Irv Logan, remembers her fondly.

“She was a very friendly person. I never saw her angry or upset. And she was joyful. She was always a happy person. And she was very firm in the way that she handled her business. You know, she was just a straight businesswoman,” said Logan.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.