Plant City, Florida - Can you imagine going on a road trip and being away from home overnight but you're not able stop and use the bathroom, get a hotel room or even eat a hot meal where you'd like because of the color of your skin?
That's what life was like for African-Americans during segregation. That's when an invisible line was drawn separating blacks from whites through Jim Crow laws.
But at the Plant City Bing Rooming House at 205 S. Allen Street African-Americans were welcome. Guests included James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul" and Satchel Paige, who was called the greatest pitcher ever in Negro League Baseball. Blues legend Muddy Waters also stayed at the rooming house according to William Thomas, Jr.
The Bing Rooming House opened in the 1920's and was the only place they could stay due to segregation.
Janie Bing, a teacher, owned the rooming house and she made sure all of her guests whether they were famous or not
were able to get a good night's rest and some hot food.
James Washington would know about that. Janie Bing was his grandmother. He was born in the front room of the house. He was raised there and would eventually work there too while growing up.
Washington says, "She was a connoisseur of good soul food. Collard greens, macaroni and cheese." He adds, "The front porch out there was like a meeting spot and people in the community - different business people would come over here and have a chat play checkers and talk."
He also says the rooming house was right in the middle of everything because the house was in what was considered the black business district. Washington says it was a very prosperous area. My people were the pillar of the community. Most of them were educators.
He says the talk at the house many times centered around the dreams and hopes of integration.
Though the house was left to Washington, at 67 years old, he decided instead to allow it to be turned it into a community museum through the help of a non-profit group, the Improvement League of Plant City.
William Thomas, Jr. is the Vice President of the organization and says, "We want individuals to come out and understand the significant role that Plant City played in the overall history of Hillsborough County."
It's an effort made easier through the help of James Washington who is making a difference hoping his grandmother's legacy and the civil rights struggle in Plant City is never forgotten.
The Bing Rooming House museum is undergoing an expansion which should be completed in May.
Meanwhile you can take a tour of the museum which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. On Tuesday and Thursday it's open from 11:30 until 2 p.m. Saturday guests can take a tour from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Admission is free.
For more information on the museum click here.
Tammie Fields, 10 News