Navigating Racism: The Green Book
Updated: Sep 8
A clear perspective of modern life can be found with a reflection back to previous times. Those benefits echo loudly when reading a copy of the Green Book and the necessary lengths taken to simply travel.
"The Green Book” was started in 1936 by a Harlem US Postal Service employee named Victor Green, The Negro Motorist Green Book, the formal name for the shortened “Green Book”, was a travel guide intended to assist African American travelers avoid social obstacles found during periods of racial segregation commonly known as Jim Crow. In short, The Green Book listed businesses that would accept African American’s as customers without questions or potentially humiliating situations.
Travel was a special challenge for African Americans during those years with even public transportation - local, regional, and national - having certain restrictions. Those individuals who could afford their own car were still facing difficulty with facing situations of being refused lodging, gas, and meals along their travel routes. With those obstacles in place, it was still possible to experience expulsion from a given area or threats of violence as they passed through "sundown towns."
In 1936, Victor Green published his first addition after researching and building data on stores throughout the New York City metro area willing to accept African American travelers. During these times there were similar guides being published for Jewish travelers facing the same types of discrimination. The reception to Green’s guide was so great, he immediately began to expand coverage the following year. The expansion wasn’t only related to geographic locations throughout the country, he began, adding hotel and restaurants as well.
Each of the businesses listed in the Green Books were known to be either minority owned and non-discriminatory. A benefit to the travelers included the open information that fully listed each business name, personal contacts and addresses - those books are still available for free online, In addition to business listings and the growing hospitality industry information, books included travel articles, driving tips, and essays highlighting locations of interest. During those years, a vital sponsor for Green’s work was found in the sponsorship by Esso Standard Oil Company. ESOC assisted with distribution of the books and promoted targeted advertising for African American customers.
Green believed his books would no longer be necessary “when we as a race have equal opportunities and privileges.” He died in 1960 and the last edition of his guide was published in 1964. The 1956 creation of national highways and interstates further reduced the need for these travel guides as the interstates minimized contact with local communities. Those re-routing pathways decreased chances for discrimination against African American motorists and further helped to identify future operating locations for non-discriminating business.
The book's publication came to an end during the push for 1964's Civil Rights Act. Its passage would make the Green Book and similar publications obsolete, as Green predicted.