Ebony Guest House

Ebony Guest House historical marker
The Ebony Guest House historical marker. Courtesy of the Francis Marion University Office of Communications.

Location: 712 Wilson Street, Florence, South Carolina

Construction for the Ebony Guest House began in the 1940s by Reverend Norman Holmes, husband to Mary Holmes, who lived in the property adjacent to the Guest House. They originally intended for the house to be a bread-and-breakfast-style hotel for Black traveling ministers. The Holmes posted an ad in The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide from 1936 to 1966 for African Americans, which provided safe places – such as hotels and restaurants – for traveling throughout the segregated south.

The house opened its doors officially in May 1949 and remained open for over 20 years. 

The building got its name from Catherine Harris, who suggested the Black association would be clear to visitors without having to use signs outside the residence. During these years of operation, the children and grandchildren of the family took care of the laundry, delivered meals to guests, and tended the garden.

The Ebony Guest House was also close to the American League Stadium, now Dr. Iola Jones Park, which is also featured on this tour. Due to this proximity, the guest house often hosted musical artists who performed at the Stadium. Some notable guests included Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Marvelettes, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Tharpe was known as the grandmother of rock ‘n’ roll and traveled with artists including the Jordanaires, an all-white group, and the Lucky Millinder Orchestra. Due to rampant segregation at the time, Thorpe would often sleep on the tour bus and pick up food from the back of restaurants. Places like the Ebony Guest House provided Thorpe with somewhere hospitable to stay while she traveled, rather than staying on the bus all the time. 

However, during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, many places previously unavailable to the Black community were now open to them, which meant that several Black businesses, such as the guest house, began to close down. In 1972, the guest house halted its operations, due largely to Mrs. Holmes’ failing health and rival competition. Mrs. Holmes passed away in 1981, and her grandchildren, Priscilla and Gloria Holmes, decided to take up the mantle and reopen the guest house. The guest house was renamed Holmes Apartments, which still are in use today and owned by the Holmes family, passed down through generations.

To learn more about the Ebony Guest House you can