My dad just sent me a copy of The Green Book (he knows me so well) so I thought I share a little info about it for today’s Black History fact.
In the 1930s, as the spread of automobiles spurred American drivers to take long trips to explore the country, black drivers who took to America’s roads regularly experienced discrimination during their travels.
In 1936, Victor Hugo Green, a black postal worker and travel writer in Harlem, NY, created a guide that would allow African Americans to embrace the adventure and road trips enjoyed by their white counterparts. The result was The Negro Motorist Green Book, the most popular guide for black travelers for three decades. Green began his work by compiling data on stores and motels and gas stations in New York City area that welcomed black travelers, and published his first guide in 1936. Similar guides had been published for Jewish travelers, who sometimes faced discrimination. Green’s guide was so popular that he immediately began to expand its coverage the next year to other US destinations, adding hotel and restaurants as well. After retiring from the Postal Service, Green continued to work on updating issues of The Green Book. In addition, he developed the related travel agency business he had established in 1947.
In production from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, the book offered a road map for African Americans navigating roads across the country, showing where black drivers and their families could eat, find lodgings, and enjoy themselves without concerns of experiencing racism or humiliation.
In their heyday, Green Books were used not only to help black drivers find safety and avoid humiliation but also to find entertainment and vacation spots. Activists used the Green Book as part of their work, regularly using black hotels and businesses as meeting spots.
And the books, which advertised locations in every state in the US, were relevant for African Americans across the country, not just in the Deep South. More than a tool for navigating Jim Crow, Green Books also enabled black travelers to navigate less formal systems of discrimination in the North and West, where black people still were often not allowed access to the same spaces as whites.
By the start of the 1960s, the Green Book’s market was beginning to erode. Even before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-American civil rights activism was having the effect of lessening racial segregation in public facilities. An increasing number of middle-class African Americans were beginning to question whether guides such as the Green Book were accommodating Jim Crow by steering black travelers to segregated businesses rather than encouraging them to push for equal access.
Black-owned motels in remote locations off state highways lost customers to a new generation of integrated interstate motels located near freeway exits. The 1963 Green Book acknowledged that the activism of the civil rights movement had “widened the areas of public accommodations accessible to all,” but it defended the continued listing of black-friendly businesses because “a family planning for a vacation hopes for one that is free of tensions and problems.”
The final edition was renamed, now called the Travelers’ Green Book: 1966-67 International Edition: For Vacation Without Aggravation; it was the last to be published after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made the guide effectively obsolete by outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodation. That edition included significant changes that reflected the post-Civil Rights Act outlook. As the new title indicated, it was no longer just for the Negro, nor solely for the motorist, as its publishers sought to widen its appeal.
Learn more about The Green Book here: