Before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 — and decades before the Internet and smart phones existed — black travelers relied on the “Green Book” to find hotels, restaurants and other establishments willing to accept their business.
The travel guide was published between 1936 and 1966 to help black motorists avoid racial harassment, arrest and violence as they traveled through the U.S. during the Jim Crow era.
“Carry The Green Book with you. You may need it,” reads the cover of the 1949 edition, followed by a quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”
Victor Green, a U.S. Postal Service worker, started publishing the books from his New York City apartment after his wife decided they should scout all the black-friendly businesses on the way to visit her family in Virginia.
“The idea crystallized when, not only himself but several friends and acquaintances complained of the difficulties encountered; oftentimes painful embarrassments suffered which ruined a vacation or business trip,” wrote Novera C. Dashiell in the spring 1956 edition.
Green and other mail carriers shared their experiences in racially segregated America, and they helped black travelers avoid “sundown towns,” where they weren’t welcome after dark, and other racist areas or businesses.
“It’s not just which places are clean and which places serve good food — it’s places that you would be welcomed and you would be safe,” said Maira Liriano, associate chief librarian at the Schomburg Center.
The books were immediately popular, and they serve as a fascinating document of mid-century cultural history.