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Hotel Metropolitan director shares historical role of hotel

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Hotel Metropolitan director shares historical role of hotel

Hotel Metropolitan Director Betty Dobson has a photo on display of the hotel from a 1912 book “Golden Jubilee of Colored Baptist in Kentucky.”

For African Americans who were traveling around the country during the days of segregation, there were not many hotels that would allow them to stay for the night.

For some travelers, that meant finding a local family that would take them in for the night if the family had room. Other African Americans used hotels and boarding houses that catered toward providing Black people a place to stay for a night. One such hotel operated in Paducah up until the 1990s: the Hotel Metropolitan.

Betty Dobson, director of the Hotel Metropolitan, which now operates as a museum, has been working for more than 20 years to restore the museum. Some of the original signage still remains, Dobson said. The sign over the front door that has “Hotel Metropolitan” in block lettering is the same sign that appears over the front door in the “Golden Jubilee of Colored Baptist in Kentucky” book printed in 1912.

Dobson has also been collecting oral records of what people remember about the hotel in its heyday and has been documenting these records to help pass the stories onto the next generation.

Some of the famous figures who have stayed there include Ike and Tina Turner, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Thurgood Marshall. Dobson said Marshall stayed at the Hotel Metropolitan three times before becoming the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

“There was nowhere in the city that would accommodate [Marshall], unless he went to someone’s home,” Dobson said. “In those days, the Negro League baseball players told me, you know, if there were no hotels that you could go to, and if there were no families that were in the city that could take you in, then you sought out funeral homes and churches.”

Dobson has also managed to talk with some of the people who have stayed at the Hotel Metropolitan and get their experience about staying. Dobson said she spoke with Marques Haynes, a Harlem Globetrotter who stayed at the hotel with other teammates. Haynes told her about a time when the Globetrotters were in Las Vegas and were initially denied rooms at a hotel, until members of the Rat Pack stood up for the Globetrotters and got them rooms in the hotel.

Dobson asked Haynes how it was staying in a fancy hotel in Las Vegas that was meant for white people at the time. His response surprised her.

“He said that ‘we couldn’t sleep a wink.’ He said that ‘we were scared to death that they were gonna come and get us any time. And I’m like, ‘oh, it’s a big hotel.’ He said, ‘they’ve got big deserts,’ ” Dobson said.

Even though the hotel has not housed guests in a couple of decades, Dobson hosts tours there to help pass along the stories that arose from within those walls. She also shares why these hotels were needed for Black visitors to feel safe.

Dobson often gives tours to visitors in town for the day from riverboat cruises that port downtown and educates them on the history of the hotel and its impact on Paducah. She also feels support from the community and surrounding neighborhood.

“I think it is a blessing from the Lord. I know He wants this project to be because I don’t know how this keeps happening. He will put people in my life to help make things better,” Dobson said.

Tours are offered at the Hotel Metropolitan by appointment and can booked by calling 270-443-7918.

Follow Hannah Saad on Twitter, @ByHannahSaad or on Facebook at facebook.com/hannahsaadpaducahsun.

Follow Hannah Saad on Twitter, @ByHannahSaad or on Facebook at facebook.com/hannahsaadpaducahsun.

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