Vintage Travel Guides for African-Americans Now Online
October 27, 2015 9:41 AM   Subscribe

"From 1936 to 1966, the “Green Book” was a travel guide that provided black motorists with peace of mind while they drove through a country where racial segregation was the norm and sundown towns — where African-Americans had to leave after dark — were not uncommon. ... The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, this year digitized its Green Book collection." (Previously.)
The Negro traveler's inconveniences,” writes Wendell P. Alston in The Negro Motorist Green Book for 1949, “are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling, individually and in groups. . . .

The GREEN BOOK with its list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems. It was the idea of Victor H. Green, the publisher, in introducing the Green Book, to save the travelers of his race as many difficulties and embarrassments as possible.”--from the 1949 edition
* Green Book Helped Keep African-Americans Safe on the Road
* Victor H. Green
* "The Open Road Wasn’t Quite Open to All" (NYT)

Via Michael Twitty (FB).
posted by MonkeyToes (13 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns, which chronicles the Great Migration through the experiences of three different actual people. The "Green Book" makes an appearance in Robert Joseph Pershing Foster's journey (thumbnailed here, unfortunately behind a silly surveywall). It does a fantastic and heartbreaking job communicating the conditions in which something like this was necessary.
posted by Vendar at 10:04 AM on October 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's interesting/odd that one of the friendly nightclubs in LA (in the 1947 edition) was called the Plantation. Hrm.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2015

This has opened my eyes up in that I never thought--to my shame--about the ability of black Americans to travel throughout the country in that time period. I am glad this was there was for them to do so as safely as possible, but also ashamed it was necessary at all.
posted by Kitteh at 10:12 AM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I seem to recall a post here about a network of amateur radio supplementing this, with motorists driving around with back seats full of batteries and radio gear, getting warnings about towns to avoid etc. from local transmitters. Anyone else hear of that?
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on October 27, 2015

Kitteh, it's not exactly all better, either. (And I'm sure you know that, this is just a nice segue). I recall a friend telling me that when her mother had a stroke, once she was able to travel, they flew her home, then had to get her car. She and her brother went, and drove it back, and they were pulled over a couple states over. She and her brother have different last names, and her mother remarried again, so the vehicle was registered to another party (her mother). All the while they couldn't help laughing about how screwed they were being black, in the south, in a vehicle without out of state plates registered to someone else. And while I'm glad they could laugh about it, try ended up having to go to the station to make some calls to get it straightened out.

I naively asked why they were pulled over. DWB, of course. The officer didn't even make any pretense otherwise.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:54 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I peeked into a couple of these to see their entries for New Orleans, where I grew up. Don't recognize any of the hotels. But one of the restaurants, Dooky's, is still in business, and has a rich history in the civil rights movement.

It's disheartening, though, to see only a handful of restaurants listed in the guide for a city that was substantially black.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:57 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's interesting to flip through and see the regional (and not all that surprising) differences. Virginia is full of places to go, and Ohio isn't that bad. Vermont, on the other hand...
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:28 AM on October 27, 2015

It's interesting/odd that one of the friendly nightclubs in LA (in the 1947 edition) was called the Plantation. Hrm.

I'm guessing it's tongue-in-cheek?

Some more info can be found here: CTRL+F "plantation"
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2015

Just from a very brief perusal, it seems like advertisements (as opposed to mere listings) are much more common for businesses in southern states. Maybe the Green Book was better known in the South.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2015

Thank you, thank you. I've heard about the Green Book for years but haven't had a chance to see one til now!
posted by allthinky at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2015

It's interesting/odd that one of the friendly nightclubs in LA (in the 1947 edition) was called the Plantation. Hrm.

The hipster is also an African-American invention.
posted by acb at 3:38 AM on October 28, 2015

This reminded me that I'm (still, apparently) looking forward to Matt Ruff's next book Lovecraft Country.
posted by togdon at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

So happy to see these posted here! (I work for NYPL Labs, and oversee the groups that digitized these materials and got them up online in our Digital Collections site in collaboration with the Schomburg division.)

We're working on some neat ideas for a project around these materials -- not quite ready for me to link to, but if anyone wants access to the OCR data of the page images, or anything like that, just let me know!
posted by Hadroed at 1:34 PM on October 30, 2015 [10 favorites]

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