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A Close Look at the Book that Helped Black Travelers in Segregated America

In 1936, Victor Green, a Harlem postal worker, published the first edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book (later named The Negro Traveler’s Green Book, and eventually The Green Book), a navigational guide for safe and welcoming travel spots for African American motorists. The 1920’s and 30’s experienced a major rise in automobiles as a means of traveling the vast United States landscape, and while black motorists explored the roads and what the country had to offer, segregation greatly inhibited travel.

The 1949 edition of The Green Book included a Mark Twain quote emblematic of the need for a guide to safe traveling for African Americans: “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1o0LhFE

As a postal worker, Green was experienced in touring the roads and saw firsthand the inherent difficulties for black travelers. He took initiative, slowly gathering more information from fellow postal workers throughout the United States to provide African American travelers with the information on institutions that permitted black patrons. Such institutions included gas stations, bars, dining spots and popular sights. According to the introduction in the 1949 edition, the travel guide was intended to “give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments, and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

Images courtesy of http://on.nypl.org/1TQC5zq.

In January 2016, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture posted more than 20 editions of the Green Book to their Digital Collections. The high-resolution scans are available for public use. Brian Foo of NYPL Labs researched the text and maps from the 1947 and 1956 editions to visualize what a trip may have looked like. NYPL Labs also created an interactive map, including nearly 800 stopping points spanning the country. Almost all of the listed addresses no longer exist, but the map helps contextualize The Green Book, and provide an image of how and where African Americans could travel, or felt safe traveling to. 

PBS notes that unlike most publishers, Green hoped that his book would one day not be necessary. In one edition, Green asserts:

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.

 

The Green Book continued to be printed until 1966, two years after the Civil Rights Act was passed and 6 years after Green passed away.

 

Featured image courtesy of http://on.nypl.org/1mIb9F9.