The Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936 to 1966 by New York City mailman, Victor Hugo Green, was used by African American travelers to traverse a hostile American landscape when trying to get from place to place. When the Green Book arrived at our museum, it needed to be encapsulated for display. I had the opportunity to page through the book before preparing it for the exhibition.
What strikes one immediately about this publication is how small it is. This book contained all the places that were known to be safe or somewhat tolerant of African American travelers throughout the entire country. In 1941, every state, city and town fit into a book that was no more than 20, 8.5” x 5” pages. With 48 States in our Union, just 20 small pages were offered to provide safe havens for lodging, food and other necessities. African American citizens needed this book to safely navigate their own country. I speak of citizens who were denied access to restrooms and had to stop on the side of the road to relieve themselves. Citizens who traveled under the cover of darkness, because it was safer than driving in the daylight. Citizens for whom getting a flat tire in the wrong place meant facing a possible life or death situation. I am speaking of citizens whose lives were literally on the line as they tried to travel their own roads in their own country. This book was made for survival.
A book that should never have had to exist in a country that claims to be the “Land of the free and the home of the brave” These travelers are the ones who were brave, but they certainly weren’t free. Our country has a great many sins. This is one. There are areas today, in 2018, throughout our nation that are still unsafe for people of color and other minority groups to travel. Our society owes every single person affected by this a better existence. See the copy we have in the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as we're in the final weeks.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center