A survival guide for travellers in a hostile land
December 15, 2016 1:03 AM   Subscribe

The Green Book, a guide which informs you where you can safely fill up your car, where to eat without being attacked or where you can can sleep without fear on your dangerous journey. It may sound like something from a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel but the hostile land in question is segregation-era America and the book is real. First published in 1936 by a Harlem postal worker, Victor H Green - in his words, "to give the Negro traveller information that will keep from him running into difficulties and embarrassments". These embarrassments included lynching. (SLBBCdoc)

Link to stream/download this fascinating BBC radio documentary presented by Alvin Hall - but in case of international rights issues it's also available as an episode of the BBC Seriously podcast from iTunes Android/Google Windows
posted by Shatner's Bassoon (26 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
this is a dupe, to some extent, because i first learnt about this here.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:24 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you'd like to read it, the NY Public Library has scanned of 22 editions of the green book
posted by zippy at 1:29 AM on December 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


The Memory Palace did a an episode about The Green book too, which was my first introduction to it.
posted by halcyonday at 2:02 AM on December 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


The Alvin Hall documentary was fascinating. Thanks for this!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:17 AM on December 15, 2016


My introduction to this was from the podcast 99% invisible.
posted by mnfn at 3:17 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


This was the inspiration for The Safe Negro Travel Guide in Matt Ruff's excellent take on H.P. Lovecraft & Jim Crow America, Lovecraft Country.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:42 AM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


I too learnt about this here on the blue, but the documentary is worth a new post - it brings it all alive in a new terrifying way.

It also brought back a moment of my youth, from before I'd ever gone to the US (but I had attended American International schools when I was smaller).
I was watching a film, I don't remember which, and at some time a the black protagonist goes on a day trip with his family. It's all very nice and sunny, nothing there, but I suddenly realized that I'd never seen a black family having a nice day trip in a film. So I started wondering. The kids at my American school had gone out to see castles on little mountains just like we did in my family, and when I saw the film, that was long ago, and there was no one I could ask. It took several years, before I realized the extent of the terror, as someone rightly calls it in the documentary.
posted by mumimor at 4:01 AM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


University of South Carolina put together a nice map of the Green Book. Some 1500 sites in the 1956 edition.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 4:16 AM on December 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I am reminded of the scene in "Driving Miss Daisy" where they are stopped driving through Alabama: "An old n****r and an old Jew woman takin' off down the road together... that is one sorry sight!" The implication of the scene is clear that both of them could be in actual mortal peril just for crossing the state line.
posted by briank at 5:09 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]



this is a dupe, to some extent, because i first learnt about this here.
Oops sorry, I did do a search for The Green Book and nothing came up immediately. Still, it's a well-produced doc that explores lots of interesting tangents and makes present day parallels.

It took several years, before I realized the extent of the terror, as someone rightly calls it in the documentary.
Yes that's a powerful quote when the civil rights campaigner talks about black people who get angry when they hear people saying America is now dealing with domestic terrorism since 9/11 - when they had been living with terrorism for all these years. And lynching was a powerful tool of terror. In towns where there had been a lynching, it was massively effective in removing the last black people who had been reluctant to leave their homes and migrate north.
posted by Shatner's Bassoon at 5:18 AM on December 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Previous MeFi appearances of The Green Book:
The Green Book, Sep 2010
Vintage Travel Guides for African-Americans Now Online, Oct 2015
We're gonna need a bigger hard drive, Jan 2016
Displacement for the Many and Homesteading for the Few, Jun 2016
posted by zamboni at 6:05 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns gets brought up every time we talk about The Green Book, so I'll do it again. One of the Great Migration stories Wilkerson tells is about a physician who escapes the Deep South to California, and he uses TGB on his trip. It really hits you how shitty things were when you realize that he's not just using the book to find hotels and restaurants where he won't get shitty service because he's black -- he's using it to find hotels and restaurants where he won't get arrested or killed because he's black. And he can't just sleep in his car, either, because he'll get arrested and killed if he does that more or less anywhere, even outside the "bad" parts of America that we think about.
posted by Etrigan at 6:27 AM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


Matt Ruff's top-notch new Cthulu mythos novel Lovecraft Country features protagonists that write for a fictionalized version of the Green Book. He does a compelling job of evoking the horrors that made publications like it necessary.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I also enjoyed the fictional novel related to this non-fictional book, Lovecraft Country.
posted by tippiedog at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nice to look up Boston and see a restaurant I enjoyed listed as a place to go. (the now-departed Charlies, on Columbus Ave)

I got a taste of this kind of thing as there were similarly themed 'gay guides' with recommendations for queer folks traveling.

Fuck Jim Crow (or as the guide seems to call it, 'jim-cro'). And to heck with everyone who thinks this time period is when America was "great".
posted by rmd1023 at 6:51 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


(whups - missed the edit window. I traveled with gay guides in the 1980's. These days, you have places doing mainstream marketing towards gays. Well, white gays. Because racism is a whole lot harder to beat than homophobia, it seems.)
posted by rmd1023 at 7:05 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


And he can't just sleep in his car, either, because he'll get arrested and killed if he does that more or less anywhere, even outside the "bad" parts of America that we think about.

That was a particularly striking, awful story in a book full of them. He drove through from Monroe, LA to San Diego, and he assumed he'd "only" have to drive through the whole of Texas before he'd have to stop. Then he hits New Mexico and realizes segregation still applies. He ends up driving 2,000 miles without rest.
posted by Anonymous at 7:16 AM on December 15, 2016


Any modern versions of the Green Book?
posted by starlybri at 7:22 AM on December 15, 2016


There is an exhibit featuring The Green Book at the absolutely fantastic Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. All credits to the wonderful staff who built and curated the museum, but the experience was really made, for me, by hearing the older black folks around me talk about their memories of using it or hearing of its use.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


In the graphic novel Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bessie Stringfield, there's a scene where Bessie (a black American motorcyclist who would go long-distance riding back in the 30s and 40s) is about to start riding in parts of the country that she's not as familiar with. She's given a copy of the Green Book so that she can travel more safely. I felt such a sense of relief when I read that page.
posted by cadge at 9:38 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oddly enough, you can get a copy on Amazon. It is a copy of the 1940 edition.

I am studying to become a high school social studies teacher. I plan to have a copy in my classroom.
posted by dfm500 at 1:40 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Great documentary. The part where they talk about logistics of travel and needing to pack a picnic lunch, like, a box of fried chicken... oh, so is that (partially) the history and tradition being alluded to when fast food chicken comes in a cute little box? Ugh.
posted by Secretariat at 2:37 PM on December 15, 2016


Charlies reopened last January.
posted by brujita at 5:41 PM on December 15, 2016


"We don't eat in no white restaurant
We're eatin' in the car
Baloney again, baloney again
We don't sleep in no white hotel bed
We're sleepin' in the car, baloney again
You don't strut around in this country town
You best stay in the car
Look on ahead don't stare around
You best stay where you are
You're a long way from home
Don't push your luck too far
Baloney again"
...


Balony Again - Mark Knopfler (SLYT)
posted by TwoToneRow at 6:19 PM on December 15, 2016


Charlies reopened last January.

Oh, cool. I used to do a lot of work down around that area, so we went there pretty frequently. Glad they're back - I'll have to check it out next time I'm in the South End.

To link things back to the actual topic, I think the closest modern analog I know of that's actively going on these days are the various apps/databases of places with lists of bathrooms that are safe for folks who are trans/non-gender-conforming/et al and concerned about using the bathroom of their choice. Although I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of modern green book growing to track 'safe' places for certain groups of folks in the US (Muslim, etc) - sort of a yelp for bigotry.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:37 AM on December 17, 2016


If I'm matching things up correctly with what I'm seeing on BBC America on cable television, the first ten minutes of this episode of The Travel Show from January this year also covers The Green Book. (geo-locked; alternate link)
posted by XMLicious at 7:57 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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