Black Lives Black Motorists

By NYPL Staff
September 23, 2016
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Black Lives Matter March Down I-35 

Minneapolis, Minnesota December 4 2014
Photo by Fibonacci Blue, via Flickr

The renaissance that Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book is experiencing is long overdue recognition for the ingenious work that Blacks were forced to create in order to experience something akin to first class citizenship within this country. The Green Book’s revival as an interesting piece of Americana and archival treasure understandably has a feel-good narrative, but within our contemporary climate of #BlackLivesMatter, the guides that are included in the pamphlet deserve continued discussion of their value as not only a practical travel resource for their time, but also as a survival guide.  


The Negro Travelers' Green Book: Fall 1956. Image ID: 5206215

Jacksonville, Florida. Charlotte, North Carolina. Dearborn, Michigan. North Charleston, South Carolina. Prairie View, Texas. Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. St. Paul, Minnesota. Clevaland, Ohio. Tulsa, Oklahoma. All these states were destinations found in a copy of The Green Book, but sadly these are also locations where Black motorists have been killed by police or fellow citizens in the past 4 years—respectively, #JordanDavis, #JonathanFerrell, #RenishaMcBride, #WalterScott, #SandraBland, #CoreyJones, #PhilandoCastile, #DeborahPearl, and mostly recently #TerenceCrutcher. For the Jim Crow trees bearing strange fruit during Victor Green’s life, which necessitated his creation of the Green Books, the branches are still bearing fruit today because being a Black motorist in 2016 can still be just as deadly as many black people’s experiences eighty years ago in 1936. 

As a librarian working at a world renowned institution whose very existence since its inception has been a testament to the idea that #BlackLivesMatter and #Libraries4BlackLives, I am ecstatic that The Green Book is spurring great interest and bringing people into libraries and museums across the country. However, as our nation experiences what feels like a nadir of disregard for the sanctity of Black life, I want to problematize the nostalgia of freedom and the open road that the Green Books tend to evoke in people who are not “woke.”


In asking you to join the discussion that Victor Green started many decades ago about surviving and even thriving when traveling while Black, my hope is to help highlight parts of the Black lived experience both past and present. I would like to suggest that in order to fully grasp and understand the importance of this 80-year-old publication, we must also truly grapple with how Black motorists are still being treated by the police and their fellow citizens.

Light Brigade & Vigil for Sandra Bland


To join the conversation as an informed participant here is a brief list of resources on the topic. We welcome additional recommendations for this list.


Armstead, Myra B. Young. "Revisiting Hotels and Other Lodgings: American Tourist Spaces through the Lens of Black Pleasure-Travelers, 1880-1950." The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 25.The American Hotel (2005): 136-59. JSTOR. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Baumgartner, Richard. "NC Traffic Stops." Frank Baumgartner. University of North Carolina, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

 Epp, Charles R., Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald Haider-Markel P. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2014. Print.

Foster, Mark S. "In the Face of "Jim Crow": Prosperous Blacks and Vacations, Travel and Outdoor Leisure, 1890-1945." The Journal of Negro History 84.2 (1999): 130. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Fryer, Roland G. An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016. Print.

Hall, Michael Ra-Shon. "The Negro Traveller's Guide to a Jim Crow South: Negotiating Racialized Landscapes during a Dark Period in United States Cultural History, 1936–1967." Postcolonial Studies 17.3 (2014): 307-19. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Harris, David. Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation's Highways. New York: ACLU, 1999. Print.

Loewen, James W. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York: New, 2005. Print.

Mapping Police Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

 Meeks, Kenneth. Driving While Black: Highways, Shopping Malls, Taxicabs, Sidewalks: How to Fight Back If You Are a Victims of Racial Profiling. New York: Broadway, 2000. Print.

Rice, Stephen K., and Michael White D.Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings. New York: New York UP, 2010. Print.

Taylor, Candacy. Moon Route 66 Road Trip. Berkeley: Avalon Travel, 2016. Print.

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket, 2016. Print.

Totten, Gary. African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow. Boston: U of Massachusetts, 2015. Print. 

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.