My first introduction with The Green Book was my father.
In an office space he rented, I found a copy. He never truly explained why he had it, but as I began to become more a fan of history (my personal family history and American social history), I realized what this book had to be for. From what I had been able to gather from my paternal family, my grandfather was either illiterate, or could read very little.
My father said when he was younger, and they would go on road trips from Illinois to Mississippi, my grandfather would know when to make a specific turn because there was a white church before he turned (the color not the congregation make-up). Once the church was gone he didn’t know where to go. My father told me the book was a travel book. I let it go at that point. However, now, remembering when my father was born (1948), and the publication of The Green Book, and the fact my grandfather had such an issue reading? As a child and grandchild, now a mother, I have a fear mixed with reverance.
This book may have saved my grandfather, grandmother, my father and his siblings.
Here, I introduce Mr. Victor Hugo Green, the US postman and travel writer that created The Negro Motorist Green Book.
The idea was simple enough, compile a list of restaurants, gas stations and hotels that were hospitable to African-American travelers. The publication of The Green Book ran from 1936-1966. Through my research, what I found was there was a similar guide for Jewish American motorists also! This just drives home how crazy–completely crazy!—anti-Semitism and racism truly are.
At the time the guide was actively being published, you have to understand how dangerous it was to be Black in certain parts of the country and at certain times of the day (read: Sundown towns). The first book published in 1936 focused on Mr. Hugo’s native New York, but by the end of its publication it reached the following states and places: much of North America (including most of the United States), parts of Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda! The book even had a list of travel friendly houses (think Air B & B!) where Black travelers could go!
With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this book–it became a relic. The type of discrimination the book was determine to circumvent if not flat out avoid, was being dismantled. Except to a nosy Black child, whose parents are Baby Boomers–one who decided to remember what it was like to be his daughter’s age; who decided to tell her a piece of a lie.
In 1966, my parents were 16 and 18. I was born 15 years later. History is never that far from the creeping present. Never for get that.