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The Invisible History of African Americans in Cape Charles, Virginia
Item 10 of 12

At the corner of 400 Jefferson Avenue and Peach Street, two buildings remain from the “old” Jersey section of Cape Charles. The Green Leaf Tavern on the left and Mitchell’s Shop on the right, with a pay phone still out front, evoke a time when neighbors all knew each other and gathered at the corner store. On Mason Avenue, African Americans, according to one resident,  “were always watched” and felt unwelcome.[1] It was a world apart at the Green Leaf Tavern, where patrons felt comfortable enough to enjoy a pint of beer and one of Mary Elizabeth Mapp’s unforgettable, praise-worthy hamburgers while playing cards and listening to the jukebox. Similarly, at Michell’s Shop, customers could pick up “cold drinks, cigarettes, coffee cakes, and pies” from Robert “Jesse” Mitchell, who patrons lovingly called “Pop Jesse.”[2] Mitchell’s Shop passed through three generations of the Mitchell family until it closed in 2019.

While the former Green Leaf Tavern on the (viewers’) left and Mitchell’s Shop on the (viewers’) right are no longer in operation, they remind onlookers of simpler days visiting the neighborhood beer hall and mom-and-pop corner store. (Allison Blakeman)

Plant, Sky, Property, Window

This advertisement for the Green Leaf Restaurant placed in the Northampton County High School Yearbook in 1959 advertises “a snack or a sack” under proprietor George Ed. Jackson. (

Jaw, Rectangle, Organism, Gesture

George Ed. Jackson’s Draft Registration Card shows that besides being enlisted in the military, he worked for Nehi Bottling Company in Cape Charles prior to opening the Green Leaf Tavern. (

Handwriting, Rectangle, Font, Parallel

Anthony Mitchell, Lenora Mitchell’s brother, is pictured in this 1950s Christmas scene in front of Savage’s Drugstore on the (viewers’) far left foreground. (Andy Dunton)

Crew, Jacket, Vintage clothing, Monochrome

While Cape Charles boasts a craft brewery, cidery, and distillery today, the town has not always been so supportive towards such businesses. Virginia enacted harsh liquor laws in 1916, years earlier than the nationwide Prohibition of alcohol between 1920 and 1933. Although the state loosened restrictions after repeal of Prohibition, Virginia did not end its ban on liquor-by-the-drink or the ability to serve liquor in mom-and-pop shops and restaurants until 1968. Walter Gholson remembers that the only African American businesses white townspeople patronized were after-hour speakeasies. While he was unable to eat inside the white restaurants on Mason Avenue, though he tried, Gholson witnessed many whites in these African American establishments: “The folks did not discriminate. If you came in and you had the money, you could buy some bootleg whiskey."[3]

As far as legal drinking establishments go, the Green Leaf Tavern was the spot for African Americans in town. The Tavern sold beer next to Mitchell’s Shop in the Jersey section. The neighborhood was “known for its gambling houses and its […] bootlegging establishments and […] parents would tell their children [they] couldn’t be up there after dark.”[4] Unlike the speakeasies, Pauline “Pucci” Mapp Foreman, whose father George Ed Jackson owned and operated the Green Leaf Tavern, did not observe any white customers stopping to drink beer. George Jackson started the Tavern sometime after he arrived home from serving overseas in the military. In the 1950 US Census he appears as working 30 hours a week as the owner of a beer garden. Pauline’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Mapp, also worked at the Green Leaf Tavern. So did her grandmother, Georgia Johnson Jackson. She remembers that, during lulls, her father would play the clarinet, something he picked up in the military. Though the Jersey section suffered a bad reputation, Pauline thought the Green Leaf Tavern “was just great for the people […] the older […] adults at the time. It was just a watering hole for them."[5]

Mitchell’s Shop, often referred to as Pop Jesse’s Shop by those who remember its original owner, Robert “Jesse” Mitchell, was one of many mom-and-pop shops in the African American neighborhood. Mitchell’s Shop stayed open seven days a week, providing the community a place to chat with friends and neighbors, buy lottery tickets, grab some candy, or make a phone call on the payphone that remains out front. Mitchell’s Shop catered to everyone because it carried almost anything that customers might want. It especially attracted kids when their traditional hang-outs closed. Juanita Brickhouse Godwin remembers that kids enjoyed stopping by because they “could get a lot, a handful of candy for five cents."[6] Jesse opened his store sometime before 1950, when the ferries moved to the Kiptopeke Terminal. His nephew David Henry Mitchell remembered, “I used to get a little box and go out there [the Cape Charles ferry terminal] with drinks and Nabs and peanuts and stuff like that.[7]

Jesse and his wife, Sally Nottingham Mitchell, had three children of their own in addition to raising three of their nieces and nephews. Their son Joseph Levin Mitchell became a pro baseball player in the Negro Leagues, son Willis Edward Mitchell was the first African American to join the Cape Charles Police Department in 1948, daughter Alice Mitchell Sample worked as an educator heavily involved with the Cape Charles First Baptist Church, and David Henry Mitchell found employment as the first African American security officer for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Willis eventually took over operations of his father’s store, continuing the family business. His daughter Lenora Mitchell became the third generation of Mitchells to run the store until it closed in 2019. Lenora still owns the land on which Mitchell’s Shop and Green Leaf Tavern sit, saving their history from the wrecking ball and the advance of new vacation homes like those nearby. In 2014, she continued her family’s list of “firsts,” winning election to the Cape Charles Town Council  as the first African American woman to gain a seat at the table. 

[1] Richard Cornell Press, Sr. interviewed by Fiameta “Metty” Vargas Pellicer (February 8, 2022), Oral History Interview for the Cape Charles Rotary Club Invisible History Project.

[2] “Oral History Pt 2: David Mitchell as Milkman, Baseball Pitcher, Cook,” Cape Charles Wave, March 31, 2014.

[3] Walter Robert Gholson, III interviewed by Fiameta “Metty” Vargas Pellicer (Novmber 29, 2021) Cape Charles Rotary Club Oral History Interview.

[4] Walter Robert Gholson, III, Cape Charles Rotary Club Oral History Interview.

[5] Pauline "Pucci" Mapp Foreman interviewed by Reginald “Reggie” Widgeon (November 21, 2021), Oral History Interview for the Cape Charles Rotary Club Invisible History Project.

[6] Juanita Brickhouse Godwin interviewed by Reginald “Reggie” Widgeon (May 22, 2021), Oral History Interview for the Cape Charles Rotary Club Invisible History Project.

[7] “Oral History Pt 2.”

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Allison Blakeman, June 2022

Andy Dunton