February 18, 2019

Travelguide: Vacation and Recreation Without Humiliation

You can read more of Jennifer Reut's work at Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Running for nearly 30 years, the Green Book was the longest lived and likely the most well-known travel guide produced for black Americans navigating segregation in the 20th century, but it was not the only one. During the Green Book’s long tenure, there were other publications that, while ostensibly aimed at the same market, cropped up to respond to different sensibilities.

Where the Green Book was solidly middle class, wide-ranging, and aiming to capture all the accommodations open to black travelers, Travelguide, published from 1947 to 1957, entwined the politics of segregated travel and access to accommodations in a larger effort for civil rights. Looking at Travelguide’s decade-long publication offers a glimpse of the many ways to approach navigating the architectural spaces of racial segregation.

Travelguide’s Place in Guidebook History

Before the Green Book, there were one-off guides, directories, and listings published, including one published by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1941, called Negro Hotels and Guest Houses. Most of these publications, like the businesses listed in their pages, were modest in scope if not in ambition—many of the accommodations were guest houses, tourist homes, or other informal lodgings rather than hotels.

1952 edition of the Travelguide guide book. Features an African American model standing in front of a car.

photo by: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division. The New York Public Library

Travelguide's front covers often featured African American models enjoying leisure activities, which was very unusual for the time.

Some of these, like the Hotel De Griff in Cape May, New Jersey (still extant), can be found in Hackley & Harrison's Hotel and Apartment Guide for Colored Travelers (1930), as well as the Green Book.

This undertaking—to publish a local or national listing of hotels and restaurants that were open and welcoming to black travelers—provided safety for those on the road in unfamiliar and possibly hostile places, and encouraged patronage at businesses that didn’t discriminate. Most importantly, publishing this information offered a form of resistance to the incursions of segregation and racial discrimination on the movement of black people.

The post-war growth in tourism-related travel, combined with increasing levels of car ownership, was not a phenomenon solely of the white middle class. Black travelers also participated in the boom in post-war leisure travel, if in smaller numbers.

Guidebooks like the Green Book, which began publication in 1936, prospered in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, reflecting both the increase in travelers and in businesses looking to cater to them. The differences and similarities between guidebooks marketed to white and black travelers were inscribed in deeply different ways, but they shared belief in the power of consumer choice to shape the landscape and define identity.

In 1947, the first edition of Travelguide came off the presses. Travelguide looked and felt different than the Green Book and its predecessors. Slim and neat at 9”x4”, it was, as Langston Hughes noted in his column for the Chicago Defender, printed at a convenient size that “fits in your pocket or purse.”

Travelguide was meant to appeal to the modern traveler, and it included well-attired women models exuding joy and vitality: playing golf, driving jazzy cars, or lounging on the deck of a pleasure craft. These scenes would become familiar in the pages of Ebony magazine, which started publication in 1945. But it was still unusual to see photographs of smartly dressed middle-class black women enjoying all the best things the post-war leisure market had to offer.

Travelguide’s tone also stood out from the Green Book and other travel guides of the era. Alongside the listings of hotels and restaurants that were “open” to all travelers, there were ads for the Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine, the Negro College Fund, and the Urban League. Travelguide also included a brief summary of each state’s Civil Rights laws and other tips for travelers. Travelguide’s position—that freedom to travel should be claimed as a civil right—was inherent in the guidebook genre, but its subtitle, “Vacation and Recreation without Humiliation,” is distinct from the more modest “embarrassment,” that was mentioned as the in the Green Book, which aimed to provide “the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments, and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

Billy Butler and the Legacy of Travelguide

Modern, unapologetic, and urbane, Travelguide reflected the sensibilities of its publisher, the musician, composer, and arranger, William H. “Billy” Butler. Born in 1903, Butler made his name as a musician in the early days of Broadway. He began playing music in his teens, studying at the Chicago Musical College and making his reputation in shows such as Shuffle Along with Eubie Blake. Butler played in several bands and touring shows throughout the 1920s and ‘30s before becoming the publisher of Travelguide.

Butler’s years in the entertainment industry made him a savvy marketer, and rather than pay for advertising space in prominent black newspapers (though he did this as well), he managed to get dozens of articles and mentions in newspapers including the New York Amsterdam News, the Chicago Defender, the Baltimore Afro-American, and the Pittsburgh Courier.

Travelguide was based out of New York City at 1674 Broadway in the theater district, a cultural landscape he knew well that is reflected in the guide’s orientation. Capitalizing on his reputation as a musician, Butler reinvent himself as a travel expert. Articles about Travelguide often mentioned Butler’s musical accomplishments and connected his years on the road as a touring musician to the usefulness of the guide.

Theodora “Dolcinia” Boyd relaxes on the diving board at the Moulin Rouge pool, May 20, 1955.

photo by: Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas - Jay Florian Mitchell Collection

Theodora “Dolcinia” Boyd at the Moulin Rouge pool, which Butler promoted through his travel agency, King Travel.

Unlike the Green Book, which relied on a fleet of correspondents to increase and update listings, Travelguide was closely associated with Butler and his network of entertainment professionals. Travelguide’s models also came from the entertainment world. Those in the new 1953 edition, Delores Martin and Mildred Smith, were “both well-known in theater circles,” as noted in the N.Y. Amsterdam News. The listings in Travelguide also reflected this, focusing on larger towns and cities, and including nightclubs and bars, as well as advertisements for entertainment venues.

The guide was a response to an unacceptable persistence of segregation and racial discrimination.

Butler fortified his standing as an expert in travel by authoring a Q&A travel column, “The Courier’s Guide for Travelers,” that appeared during the 1950s in the Pittsburgh Courier. In it, Butler answered readers wrote in with questions about places to stay and kept them up to date about changing racial attitudes in different parts of the country, as well as new services, such as a car provisioner that would sell you a car for your trip overseas and then purchase it back on your return. In his columns and interviews, Butler reinforced the idea that the guide was a response to an unacceptable persistence of segregation and racial discrimination—and that he intended to continue it until all guides were interracial.

In addition to the column and the annual Travelguide, Butler had a travel agency, King Travel, that operated hand in glove with the Travelguide publication. In 1955, the Moulin Rouge casino and resort was opened in a historically black neighborhood in Las Vegas. Billed as the first interracial casino resort, the Moulin Rouge garnered enormous publicity in the black press. Butler was able to position King Travel as the interracial resort’s booking agent, which allowed the publications arm to coat-tail on the tremendous press the casino garnered.

The association with the Moulin Rouge was a significant one,reflecting Travelguide’s orientation toward interracial accommodations. Nonetheless, the Moulin Rouge closed after a few months, as complex forces aligned against its success.

The last issue of Travelguide appears to have been published in 1957 (although another guide of unknown origin with the same title was also published in 1962-‘63). It would be several more years before the guide’s advocacy for fully integrated public accommodation would become a reality.

Travelguide ended at the height of the tourism boom, but its approach to linking civil rights, pleasure, and unrestricted movement continues to reverberate today.

Join Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened!

By: Jennifer Reut

Have a story idea that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience? Read our Contributor Guidelines and email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

More posts by guest authors (325)

Join us in protecting and restoring places where significant African American history happened.

Learn More