Between 1936 and 1964, the Negro Motorist Green Book was essential for the survival of thousands of black Americans in an era of segregation cemented into the American legal system through Jim Crow laws, sundown towns where African Americans were under threat of violence after sunset, and a sharp increase in lynchings and other forms of hate crimes.
Victor Green worked as a postal carrier in Hackensack, New Jersey, and lived with his family in Harlem. Allegedly, Green was frustrated with his own experiences attempting to travel the United States as an African American and heard similar stories from friends and family. In 1936, he decided to publish the first edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book, based on similar guides for Jewish travelers. The first issue of the Green Book was limited to black-owned and non-discriminatory businesses in New York City.
Exploring the true story of the Green Book is an aspect of the National Trust's work to tell the full American story through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The first edition of the Green Book was so popular, Green expanded it the following year to include more states and distribute it nationally. Green eventually opened a publishing office in Harlem to support the Green Book and in 1947, he established Vacation Reservation Service, a travel agency that booked reservations at black-owned establishments. In its heyday, the Green Book sold 15,000 copies per year. Green died in 1960, but his widow, Alma, published the books until 1966—two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The places listed in Green Books range from hotels and restaurants to night clubs, grocery stores, gas stations, and even "tourist homes," where homeowners welcomed weary travelers to spend the night when they had nowhere else to go. The longest groups of listings are in large cities with significant African American populations, in contrast to small towns in Midwestern states, most of which only include a few listings in later editions of the Green Book.
“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 rights and privileges in the United States.”Victor Green
All of the places listed in the Green Books were either black-owned or known to be non-discriminatory, and the books, which are available for free online, list the names and addresses of places that represent 20th-century African American stories. A few notable places, including National Treasure of the National Trust A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama, have been preserved and recognized for their significance.
But, outside the travel guides themselves, little is known about the vast majority of Green Book sites. Learn more about the places—many of which are abandoned or demolished—that mark an important chapter in American history.
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