The Green Book's Road Trip: The Journey of a Black Travel Guide in the Post-Jim Crow South

Traveling across the United States was often a perilous journey for Black Americans in the post-Jim Crow era. Particularly for motorists traveling in the Deep South. Harlem-based postal carrier, Victor Hugo Green, was well aware of the dangers a segregated America presented Black travelers based on his occupation, prompting him to publish The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936.

The Green Book functioned as a listserve travel guide that gave Black travelers information about hotels, guest houses, service stations, drug stores, taverns, barbershops and restaurants that were deemed as “safe ports.” Upon a republishing in 1948 and renaming to The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1948: A Classified Motorist & Tourist Guide Covering the United States & Alaska, the authors concluded the introduction to the guide with the following hopeful prediction:

“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.”

Iterations of The Green Book would be published consistently from 1936-1967 and include more than 100,000 sites of refuge and safety. The literature known as the “bible of Black travel” is currently on a road trip itself as an exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Per the Smithsonian’s description of the traveling exhibit, it “features an immersive look at the harsh reality of travel for Blacks in mid-century America and the vibrant parallel world of African American-friendly businesses that supported this travel.” It is being curated by Candacy Taylor, a leading Green Book scholar, and an award-winning author, photographer and documentarian.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the era of The Green Book’s publishing to the modern era is that Black travelers are potentially less likely to be openly victimized by citizen violence in “sun down towns” and predominantly white outlier areas. This is mostly due to the fact that the sons and grandsons of violent racists figured out the legal way to harass, detain and injure Black folks #DrivingWhileBlack was to join the local police department.

But, I digress. The exhibit is presently on display at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis through March 1 and will next journey to Little Rock, Arkansas. It definitely seems worth double-masking up and adhering to social distancing guidelines to visit.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be

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