27 May 2016

African American Travel 1930s-1960s -- The Travelers' Green Book

The Travelers’ Green Book

In an age of prejudice, African Americans were often challenged as they travelled.  Because of Jim Crow laws, sundown laws, and other restrictive legislation, along with the possibility of physical danger, in 1936, Victor Green began publishing a guide to help African American travelers.  He identified “safe” places where African American travelers could have a meal, spend the night, get their automobile serviced or take advantage of other services.

1947 Trip -- Atlanta, GA, to Alexandria, VA
The Washington Post article The forgotten way African Americans stayed safe in a racist America discusses the history of this book and gives some interesting insight into the time period.

You can find online, at the New York Public Library (NYPL), a collection of 21 volumes of The Green Book covering from 1937-1964. As part of a related project, the NYPL Labs created an interactive map where you can navigate a trip using The Green Book travel guide content.

I looked at a trip in 1947 from Raleigh, NC, to Alexandria, VA.  It was interesting that the destination became Johnson’s Jr. Hotel, 1509 Vermont Ave, N.W. (which is actually in Washington, DC).  Since my trip was just under 250 miles, it didn’t look for a restaurant.  So, I extended my start place to Atlanta, GA.  Interestingly, it took me through West Virginia, so I could dine at a restaurant in St.
1956 Trip -- Atlanta, GA to Alexandria, VA
Albans, WV.  Apparently, this is because neither NC nor VA were apparently hospitable to African American travelers at the time in 1947.  By the 1956 book, this had changed dramatically with many NC and VA options listed.  I was then able to dine in NC and my lodgings were actually located in Alexandria, VA.

Do play around with this navigation tool to get a perspective on how limited the travel options were in 1947, and how improved, though not great, they were in 1956.

Besides the obvious of limited options, what most struck you as you planned your trip, as an African-American in 1947 or 1956?

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