Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Neverett Alexander Eggleston (14 September 1898–5 December 1996), entrepreneur, was born in Henrico County and was the son of Richard A. Eggleston and Cora Bell Eggleston. Little is known of his childhood and education. In 1918 Eggleston was working as a waiter in a hotel and living with relatives in Newburgh, New York. He later returned to Virginia and on 8 October 1925 married Sallie (or Sallye) Juanita Robertson in Richmond. They had two daughters and one son. Eggleston worked as a chef at a local country club, and about 1929 he opened a restaurant called the Lafayette in Richmond's vibrant black business district of Jackson Ward. The venture was apparently short-lived, and few details of the business survive.

He continued working at the country club, and late in the 1930s the owner of Miller's Hotel asked if he would like to take over the business. Eggleston managed the hotel and restaurant and the neighboring pool hall at the corner of Second and Leigh Streets. About 1942 he obtained an interest-free loan of $25,000 to purchase the building, which he renamed the Hotel Eggleston. When the United States entered World War II, the wartime mobilization was a tremendous boon for Eggleston and Richmond's black business community. Because of racial segregation, the United Service Organizations opened a club nearby to assist African Americans being inducted into various branches of the armed forces, and several bases opened or expanded in central Virginia. As a result, black servicemen flooded the area in need of lodging and searching for entertainment. Also because of segregation, many prominent African American performers and athletes stayed or dined at the hotel beginning in the war years and continuing through the mid-1970s. The list included jazz greats Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong; baseball players Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, and Roy Campanella; heavyweight boxing champions Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; singers Nat King Cole and James Brown; comedians Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley; and civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall.

By the 1950s Eggleston had joined the Richmond Democratic League, which worked to register African American voters. During the 1960s he became involved in anti-segregation efforts in Richmond, albeit behind the scenes, posting bail for a number of demonstrators arrested in local sit-in protests. He later contributed to black politicians' campaigns and participated in forming the Richmond Crusade for Voters, an African American political-action organization. Ironically, however, in his efforts to end racial segregation in Richmond, Eggleston was effectively working himself out of a job. By the end of the 1970s, the decline of the business district—once considered the Harlem of the South—was palpable and undeniable, part of a trend Eggleston himself attributed to the desegregation that drew African Americans into white-owned businesses for shopping, entertainment, and other services that eroded financial support for black businesses. Although Eggleston continued to run the business and owned several rental properties, by the 1980s his restaurant had become a delicatessen and the hotel a de-facto boardinghouse. A decade later the business was shuttered and the building fell into disrepair.

Eggleston either forgot the year of his birth or was eager to reach the age of 100, and by the mid-1990s he related that he was born in 1895, not 1898, and consequently some of his obituaries incorrectly identified him as a centenarian. Neverett Alexander Eggleston died at a Richmond hospital on 5 December 1996, and was buried at the cemetery of Saint John Baptist Church, in Richmond. The elaborate funeral featured a horse-drawn hearse and procession of antique cars, received media coverage, and prompted a statement of condolence from the then-governor of Virginia. At its next session the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution honoring Eggleston. In April 2009 the Eggleston Hotel building collapsed, and the site was cleared, a sad coda to a self-made success story and a sign of continued struggle for the once-thriving neighborhood.

Sources Consulted:
Self-reported birth date of 14 Sept. 1898 in World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1917–1918), Record Group 163, and variant birth date of Aug. 1898 in United States Census Schedules, Richmond City, 1900, Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29, both in National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Marriage Register, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; feature articles in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5 Sept. 1988, 12 Apr. 2009, Richmond Style Weekly, 11 June 1991, 12 Dec. 2000, Richmond Free Press, 28–30 Sept. 1995 (with incorrect 15 Sept. 1895 birth date), 16–18 Apr. 2009 (reprinting 1992 autobiographical column by Eggleston); obituaries with portraits and accounts of funeral in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6, 10 Dec. 1996, and Richmond Free Press, 12–14 Dec. 1996.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Myja R. Thibault.

How to cite this page:
Myja R. Thibault,"Neverett Alexander Eggleston (1898–1996)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Eggleston_Neverett_Alexander, accessed [today's date]).

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