January 16, 2016

Taking a tour in black history

Malcolm Jones, Daily Beast -  Last week, I spent a day trying to use The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, and I’m happy to say I failed miserably.

The book is useless now as a guidebook. The establishments it listed are mostly gone. More important, the clientele it served—African American travelers searching for housing and food in the era of segregation—doesn’t need it anymore.

That, however, does not mean that the Green Book has no value. On the contrary, while its original purpose may be antiquated, its new service as a field guide to the daily and ubiquitous indignities suffered under Jim Crow make it invaluable.

It all began in 1936, when a Harlem postal worker named Victor H. Green published his first Negro Motorist Green Book (the name was later changed to The Negro Travelers’ Green Book). Patterning his guide on similar publications for Jews, Green published new editions annually until his death in 1960, and his wife continued the business until 1966.

The Green Book listed hotels, motels, restaurants, barbershops and beauty parlors, tailors, road houses, guest houses, trailer parks, service stations, theaters, dance halls, garages, and taverns where African American travelers could be sure they would not be turned away because of their skin color.

Or, as some editions put it on the covers: “For vacation without aggravation.” Or, more pointedly: “Carry it with you … you may need it.” The title page promised “Assured Protection for the Negro Traveler,” while text inside assured readers that using a Green Book would allow them to travel “without embarrassment.”...

Why not make Victor Green’s inspired guidebooks required reading in America’s public schools? What better way to teach children about the ravages of a time when merely setting foot in the wrong restaurant or trying to use a gas station bathroom could get a careless traveler jailed or worse just because his skin happened to be the wrong color? That Victor Green had to go to the trouble he did, and that thousands upon thousands of grateful travelers used his guides for decades, speaks volumes about the quotidian indignities that are so much a part of this country’s history.


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