Remember the Importance of Victor Green's Guide During Jim Crow America

“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

That was how the authors of the “Negro Motorist Green Book” ended the introduction to their 1948 edition. In the pages that followed, they provided a rundown of hotels, guest houses, service stations, drug stores, taverns, barber shops and restaurants that were known to be safe ports of call for African American travelers. The “Green Book” listed establishments in segregationist strongholds such as Alabama and Mississippi, but its reach also extended from Connecticut to California—any place where its readers might face prejudice or danger because of their skin color. With Jim Crow still looming over much of the country, a motto on the guide’s cover also doubled as a warning: “Carry your Green Book with you—You may need it.”

First published in 1936, the Green Book was the brainchild of a Harlem-based postal carrier named Victor Hugo Green. Like most Africans Americans in the mid-20th century, Green had grown weary of the discrimination blacks faced whenever they ventured outside their neighborhoods. Rates of car ownership had exploded in the years before and after World War II, but the lure of the interstate was also fraught with risk for African Americans. “Whites Only” policies meant that black travelers often couldn’t find safe places to eat and sleep, and so-called “Sundown Towns”—municipalities that banned blacks after dark—were scattered across the country. As the foreword of the 1956 edition of the Green Book noted, “the White traveler has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro it has been different.”

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