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The Green Book: The Black Travelers’ Guide to Jim Crow America

During the time of segregation, black Americans traveling by car on the open road presented serious dangers. Driving the interstate to unfamiliar locations, black travelers ran into institutionalized racism in a number of forms, from hotels and restaurants facilities that refused to accommodate them to hostile towns “sundown towns”, that posted signs warning people of color that they were banned after nightfall. Victor Hugo Green, a Harlem-based postal carrier, developed the guide in 1936 to help black Americans indulge in travel without fear. The first edition of his Green Book only covered hotels and restaurants in the New York area, but he soon expanded its scope by gathering field reports from fellow postal carriers and offering cash payments to readers who sent in useful information. By the early 1940s, the Green Book boasted thousands of establishments from across the country, all of them either black-owned or verified to be non-discriminatory. The 1949 guide encouraged hungry motorists passing through Denver to stop for a bite at the Dew Drop Inn. Those looking for a bar in the Atlanta area were told to try the Yeah Man, Sportsman’s Smoke Shop or Butler’s. In Richmond, Virginia, Rest-a-Bit was the go-to spot for a ladies’ beauty parlor. Even in cities with no black-friendly hotels, the book often listed the addresses of home owners who were willing to rent rooms.

The 1948 Edition ended its introduction with the words “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.” Victor Hugo Green died in 1960 after more than two decades of publishing his travel guide. His wife Alma took over as editor and continued to release the Green Book in updated editions for a few more years, but just as Green had once hoped, the march of progress eventually helped push it toward obsolescence.

Today, the book is now a fad. More of a symbol that modern day African-Americans cannot relate to as heavily as those that lived through a time so threatening. In her book Overground Railroad, Candacy Taylor interviewed descendants of business owners with listings in Green’s directories. According to Taylor’s research, only 3 percent of the businesses are still in operation, but she’s gleaned a wealth of insights from their legacies: “I found incredibly inspiring stories. Stories that will live within our culture.



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