History of Rabbit’s Motel
The Creating of An African-American Historic and Cultural Landmark
75 Years In Service
Opening in 1947 by Fred “Rabbit” Simpson, Rabbit’s Motel was a crown jewel of Black-owned Tourist Courts for African-American travelers in the segregation-era South, and provided lodging and soul-food dining for travelers, famous entertainers, Negro league sports stars and musicians from the Big Band era, as Asheville was a main stop along the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’. Rabbit’s was an $89,000 business upon opening, equivalent to $900,000 today, and featured an indoor dining room fountain, state-of-the art kitchen equipment and heating systems, muliti-colored-stone driveway, upper-class room furnishings and curb-side service. The business was owned and operated by one family for over four generations. The restaurant with its “pork chops the size of bibles” was beloved by the Southside and greater Asheville community for many decades all the way up to 2003.
Patrons of Rabbit’s Motel
Lost Communities of Black Exceptionalism in Asheville
Rabbit’s Motel sat in the heart of Southside, a flourishing African-American community that was one of many flourishing communities within Asheville, including downtown’s The Block which was the nexus of Black commercialism and one of the largest black-owned business districts in the South. It’s district of diners, drugstores, beauty parlors, dry-cleaners, record shops, bar-clubs and speakeasy’s were an entertainment and business hub of the flourishing East End community, home to Stephans-Lee High School, the only public African-American school in North Carolina. Here in Southside, music clubs, drive-ins, motels, juke-joints and businesses of every variety lined Southside Avenue, now re-enginnered and broken into two seperate sections. These communities drew a steady influx of touring artists on the ‘Chitlin Circuit’, as well as served as creative hotbeds for many popular and well-known local musicians from the 40’s up through the 70’s.
Municipal neglect to these communities caused them to be blighted, and the practices of ‘Urban Renewal’ erased all of these historic communities over a period of 30 years. Entire neighborhoods were dispossessed, roads were redrawn. Communities and their sense of belonging and connection were dismantled and broken apart. In just the East Riverside area alone, “we lost more than 1,100 homes, six beauty parlors, five barber shops, five filling stations, fourteen grocery stores, three laundromats, eight apartment houses, seven churches, three shoe shops, two cabinet shops, two auto body shops, one hotel, five funeral homes, one hospital, and three doctor’s offices.” (Reverend Wesley Grant)
YMI Cultural Center| A center of of civic, cultural and business for Asheville’s Black community founded in 1893, it is the oldest African American institution of its kind.
The Outcasts – NC Battle of the Bands winner, 1979, named number one R&B, Soul and Top Forty band in North Carolina. (kneeling l to r) Edward Stout, saxophonist; Darriel Jones, drummer; (seated) Patricia McAfee, vocalist; (standing l to r) Marvin Seabrooks, trombonist; Mike Steele, saxophonist; Mike Miller, lead guitarist; and Jay McDowell, bass. (Photo, Henry Robinson).