Today’s post was written by CHC Preservation Planner, Sarah Burks.
You likely have heard a lot of talk recently about Green Book, the award-nominated movie starring Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, a world class pianist on a performance tour in the southern states during the Jim Crow era. The name of the movie derives from a U.S. travel guide for Black tourists. The Negro Motorist Green Book offered lists of restaurants, automobile service stations, hotels, parks, and other sites that would be safe and welcoming to African Americans traveling for work or leisure. The books were published by Victor H. Green between 1936 and 1967. A new documentary, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, will air on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday, February 25 at 8:00 P.M. The original books have been digitized by the New York Public Library and can be viewed online here.
Although Boston had a couple dozen sites listed in the Green Books, Cambridge only had one, a “tourist home” at 26 Mead Street with the contact name of S. P. Bennett.
Satyra Pearson Bennett was a Cambridge resident who rented out rooms to travelers in her family home. She worked as a linotype operator for several newspapers and was on the board of multiple charitable organizations and city committees. Satyra Pearson was born in 1892 in Rock Hill, Jamaica to Frances and William Pearson. In 1894, Satyra and her parents departed from Kingston and arrived in New York City. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1903, first residing in Worcester and then settling in Cambridge on Mead Street.
According to Satyra’s 1926 Petition for Citizenship, the family arrived in Boston from St. John, New Brunswick aboard the U.S.S. Calvin Austin in 1913.
Satyra’s father was an ordained minister and was the pastor for many years at St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 37 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridgeport.
In 1919, Satyra married Cyril Bennett. Cyril was also a Jamaican-born minister, and following their marriage, Satyra moved with him to Detroit. Together they had one son, George B. Bennett in 1920, but the couple soon divorced. By July 1921, Satyra had moved back to Cambridge and lived with her parents at 26 Mead Street. Satyra advertised her dress-making services in local newspapers, and in 1926 began the process to attain her U.S. citizenship.
Mrs. Bennett was a founding board member of the Cambridge Community Center, the Citizens Charitable Health Association, and an officer of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She died in 1977. Her sister, Mrs. Ozeline Pearson Wise, was the first African American woman to work for the banking department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She was interviewed in 1978 as part of the Black Women’s Oral History Project. You can listen to their story here and view their entries on the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project.