Graham’s Rib Station

Springfield, Missouri, USA

Closed 1995

The Disappointed Tourist: Graham’s Rib Station, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

Graham’s Rib Station was opened in 1932 on Route 66 a young African-American couple, James and Zelma Graham who had fortunately taken their savings out of the bank just a few days before the stock market crash. James Graham died in 1956, but Zelma ran the business until 1996, living to be 106. The Rib Station was unsegregated, and its seven stone cabins were one of two places in Springfield where African-American visitors could stay before desegregation. The original Graham’s Rib Station building was demolished to make way for the Chestnut Expressway, but Zelma Graham built a second structure that now houses the New Oriental Restaurant. The painting is based on an uncredited photograph from the African-American Heritage Trail website.

Black soldiers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, near Rolla, Missouri, on Route 66, were shut out of local restaurants and nightclubs, and had to drive eighty miles to Graham’s Rib Station, in Springfield, Missouri, for food, fun and entertainment. It wasn’t listed in the Green Book, but the on-site motel, built during the war, offered lodging to black soldiers, giving them a safe place to stay so they wouldn’t have to make the long drive back to their barracks at night. Graham’s was the hot spot for entertainers; Little Richard and Pearl Bailey stayed there. The restaurant was demolished when Route 66 was widened, and the only remnant is a tourist cabin, which today serves as a storage shed for a law firm. Natasha L.