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The Green Book

What is it?

The Negro Motorist Green Book (at times styled or titled The Negro Travelers' Green Book) was an annual guidebook for African-American roadtrippers, commonly referred to simply as the Green Book.

Who Wrote it and Why?

The Green Book was originated and published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against non-whites was widespread.

Although racial discrimination and poverty limited black car ownership, the emerging African-American middle class bought automobiles as soon as they could, but faced a variety of dangers and inconveniences along the road, from refusal of food and lodging to arbitrary arrest. In response, Green wrote his guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans, eventually expanding its coverage from the New York area to much of North America, as well as founding a travel agency.

Many Black Americans took to driving, in part to avoid segregation on public transportation. As the writer George Schuyler put it in 1930, "all Negroes who can do so purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult. Black Americans employed as athletes, entertainers, and salesmen also traveled frequently for work purposes.

African-American travelers faced hardships such as white-owned businesses refusing to serve them or repair their vehicles, being refused accommodation or food by white-owned hotels, and threats of physical violence and forcible expulsion from whites-only "sundown towns". Green founded and published the Green Book to avoid such problems, compiling resources "to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make the trip more enjoyable. During this time, black businesses thrived because the black dollars stayed in the black communities.

From a New York-focused first edition published in 1936, Green expanded the work to cover much of North America, including most of the United States and parts of Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The Green Book became "the bible of black travel during Jim Crow",enabling black travelers to find lodgings, businesses, and gas stations that would serve them along the road. It was little known outside the African-American community. Shortly after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed the types of racial discrimination that had made the Green Book necessary, publication ceased and it fell into obscurity.

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Related Content:

There has been a revived interest in the early 21st century in connection with studies of black travel during the Jim Crow era. Check it out!

The 2019 comedy-drama film Green Book is named for The Negro Motorist Green Book. In the film, based on a true story, Tony Vallelongais hired to be classical pianist Don Shirley's chauffeur and de facto bodyguard for a concert tour of Deep South American states. In that role, Vallelonga is given a copy of the Green Book and consults it at various times as he learns about the various racist indignities and dangers his employer must endure, which he shares himself to a lesser extent for being Italian-American.

The documentary film The Green Book: Guide to Freedom by Yoruba Richen first airs on February 25, 2019 on the Smithsonian Channel in the US.

"A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."
- Marcus Garvey

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