Africa and the African Diaspora
Schomburg Treasures: The Green Book
The mid-20th Century: a time of freedom and grand opportunities. Ever bigger and faster and cheaper cars allowed an exciting ease of movement across America's new parkways, numbered highways, and interstates. The automobile changed the world, and suddenly the horizon seemed to go on forever. But some other essential changes were a long time coming, and for one segment of the population that horizon was filled with landmines.
Enter Victor Green. From 1936 to 1966 (with only a pause for WWII), this postal worker from New Jersey published the directories known today as the Green Book. (The actual titles were variously: The Negro Motorist Green Book; The Negro Travelers' Green Book; The Travelers' Green Book.) These listed—first in NYC only, later throughout much of the world—hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, nightclubs, bars, gas stations, etc. where black travelers would be welcome. In an age of sundown towns, segregation, and lynching, the Green Book became an indispensable tool for safe navigation.
Victor's introductions always concluded:
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. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.
But the story doesn't end there. To flip through a Green Book is to open a window into history and perhaps to see, the tiniest amount, through the eyes of someone who lived it. Read these books; map them in your mind. Think about the trips you could take, can take, will take. See how the size of the world can change depending on the color of your skin.
The Schomburg's full collection is available here.