In 1936, New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green (1892-1960) published the first The Negro Motorist Green-Book, an annual guide for African Americans travelers. Automobiles offered African Americans greater mobility, but journeys beyond their own communities in the Jim Crow era presented hazards from restaurants that refused service to “sundown towns” that banned people of color after nightfall. The first edition identified New York hotels and restaurants which welcomed African Americans. As Green gathered reports from readers and Black members of his postal workers’ union, subsequent editions included dining establishments, hotels and guest houses, service stations, taverns, and other facilities across the United States. Calvin Alexander Ramsey, the author of a children’s book and a play about the guides, observes that they “created a safety net. If a person could travel by car—and those who could, did—they would feel more in control of their destiny.”
Green’s widow published the guides for six years after his death. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in public facilities, led to the guide’s obsolescence. Green anticipated this ending in his first edition: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published.” –Prof. Kathleen Brosnan
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Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time
Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written
Chambers, Jason. “The Rise of Black Consumer Marketing.” In Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry, 20–57. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. (Companion Canvas page.)
Wolcott, Victoria W. “The Fifth Freedom: Racial Liberalism, Nonviolence, and Recreation Riots in the 1940s.” In Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America, 47–87. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. (Companion Canvas page.)