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Green Book: A Jim Crow Era Guide for Black Travelers

Urvija Banerji - Atlas Obscura
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February 13, 2016

The 1949 edition of The Green Book includes the Mark Twain quote, "Travel Is Fatal To Prejudice." (New York Public Library)

"There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published," reads the introduction to the 1949 edition of The Green Book. The travel guide listed bars, restaurants, hotels, and other places in America where black travelers would be welcomed.

Victor H. Green, a post office worker, teamed with his contacts in the Postal Workers Union, all around the country, to compile The Green Book, which aimed to help black travelers navigate around the dangers they faced on the road during the most intense period of segregation in the 20th century.

The need for a travel guide specifically tailored to African-Americans arose during the Jim Crow era, when the consequences of entering a "whites only" space ranged from having the door slammed in one's face to being assaulted or even lynched. The first edition of The Green Book was published in 1936, the last one in 1966.

As a black middle class began to rise in America, the face of travel was no longer exclusively white. More black people began driving, in part because they were more economically able, but also due to the discrimination they faced on public transportation.

However, black motorists were not safe even within their own vehicles: at the time, the simple fact of a black person owning a car could anger white supremacists. Even the laws of the road were dictated by racism; in some areas black drivers were not allowed to overtake white drivers.

Later editions of The Green Book included pictures. The above page is from the 1962 edition of the guide and lists four restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. (New York Public Library)

While black Americans may have been familiar with the "whites only" establishments in their own towns, it was difficult to know where they would be welcome when they were traveling. Each edition of The Green Book was an extensive list of not only bars, hotels and restaurants, but also establishments such as hair salons, beauty parlors, drugstores, tailors, and liquor stores.

Later editions of the guide included pictures and accommodated for air and ship travel, too. By the early 1950s, the guide had added international destinations such as Mexico, Canada and Bermuda.

Read the rest at Atlas Obscura

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