From the Great Depression through the Civil Rights era, “The Green Book” travel guides were issued every year to help African-American drivers safely explore the country — and Texas.
This was the era when American motorists were discovering the joys of the long-distance drive on iconic roadways like Route 66.
It also was the era of Jim Crow and racial strife — which made The Green Book as crucial for many black drivers as a map.
Published from 1936 to 1967, “The Green Book” listed hundreds of hotels, restaurants, theaters, barber shops and tourist homes for black travelers. It started as a guide for metropolitan New York but quickly expanded to include the United States and later parts of Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. In its heyday, “The Green Book” sold 15,000 copies per edition, according to the PBS series Independent Lens.
The guide was created by Victor H. Green, a postal service worker from Harlem. His goal: Help the average African-American traveler avoid “difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.”
Green knew there would be trouble ahead for African Americans after Route 66 was designated in 1926, according to the Los Angeles Times. The historic highway passed through three time zones, eight states, 89 counties and dozens of “sundown towns” that enforced segregation with Jim Crow laws, intimidation and violence.
An excerpt from the introduction of the 1949 edition:
“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. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.”
Most years, the books were about 80 pages and cost between $.75 and $1.95, as they increased in popularity. A year ago, a copy of a 1941 edition sold at auction for $22,000 to the Smithsonian Institution, the Times reports. The books had an invaluable purpose as well — the physical copies served as identification for travelers when they were reaching designated destinations.
Documentary: “The Green Book Chronicles”
Author and playwright Calvin Ramsey is currently working on a documentary called, “The Green Book Chronicles” about Victor Green’s efforts to keep black motorists safe. According to NBC News, “He learned about the Green Book in 2001 after a family friend passed away and his friend’s 80-year-old grandfather asked him to find a Green Book so he could travel down South to the funeral.” Ramsey has since made the film his life’s work hoping to shed light on “lost history.”
Documentary: “The Negro Motorist Green Book And Route 66”
Candacy Taylor produced a documentary on the guidebooks for the National Parks Service. She tells the LA Times that many of the Green Book sites are no longer the safe havens they once were. Instead, they are clustered in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. “Unless something is done soon, the Green Book’s trove of surviving properties will be lost due to gentrification and neglect,” she says.
Read more: keranews.org