SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Black history in San Diego goes back hundreds of years, but a unique aspect specific to the area is a historic building that no longer stands. At the intersection of Market and 2nd in downtown, there is a small plaque on the ground. This marker is all that’s left of the historic Hotel Douglas, a place founded in the Roaring 20s that became an icon for the area.
George Ramsey founded Hotel Douglas in 1924 as a place for the black community. During this time, segregation was prevalent, and many hotels were whites-only. Ramsey created the hotel as a way to give a space and economic boost to black people.
“He had the idea of creating a black hotel. When I say black hotel I mean a hotel run by black people, owned by black people, employing black people, serving black people,” said David Miller, a history professor who also works with the San Diego History Center.
Miller said the hotel became a famous spot because of the nightclub inside that drew in many famous black performers, including Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington, who would stop on their way to shows in neighboring major cities.
“San Diego was a stopover point so the club in the hotel became a center for black performers and in fact became dubbed the Harlem of the west,” said Miller.
The hotel no longer stands, but the plaque marks the history it represents. Miller said this history, similar to other major black history days like Juneteenth, is important to know and understand to grow as a society.
“It’s a chance to truth tell and to learn about not necessarily a moment in history but a moment in history that illustrates the ongoing nature of making freedom and navigating what freedom means now as free people,” he said.
The San Diego History Center will reopen to the public July 4, 2020 after closures due to coronavirus. There are also resources available online to learn more about local history. The museum will also have an exhibit on Nathan Harrison, a legendary African American San Diego homesteader, in spring 2021. The display was delayed due to COVID-19.