• Dave McGuire

Travel Plans Dictated by Race

The Clarksvillian

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 to 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 Americans 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 difficulties in 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 an 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 published for Jewish travelers facing the same types of discrimination. The reception to Green’s guide was so great, he immediately expanded coverage in the following year. The expansion wasn’t only related to geographic locations throughout the country, he began, adding hotels and restaurants as well.

Each of the businesses listed in the Green Books was minority-owned and non-discriminatory. A benefit to the travelers included the open information that fully listed each business name, personal contacts, and address. Those books are still available for free online. Aside from business listings and information on the growing hospitality industry, the books include 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 of Esso Standard Oil Company. ESOC assisted with the 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. These re-routing pathways decreased chances for discrimination against African American motorists and further helped to identify future operating locations for non-discriminating businesses.

The book's publication ended during the push for 1964's Civil Rights Act. Its passage would make the Green Book and similar publications obsolete, as Green predicted.