This 1956 guidebook for black travelers is an incredible reminder of America’s racist realities
During the Jim Crow era, traveling in the United States for African-Americans was difficult and often dangerous. Motels and restaurants didn’t have to serve you if they didn’t want to. “Sundown towns”—places where it was unsafe to be black at night—dotted the nation’s geography. If you were driving around the country, the only way to know if you were safe was by word-of-mouth.
But a black civic leader named Victor H. Green came up with a better, more permanent solution. In the early 1930s, he began publishing a compendium of tips and wisdom for black travelers called The Negro Motorist’s Green Book, which would become better known as just the Green Book.
In its heyday, each edition of the Green Book was selling around 15,000 copies. Green’s guidebook was horrifyingly, frustratingly necessary for African-American motorists, business travelers, and vacationers to use while driving the roads and interstates of this country.
Indeed, the 1949 edition featured an ominous warning on the cover: “Carry The Green Book with you. You may need it.”
Thanks to the digital collection at the University of South Carolina’s library, we were given the opportunity to examine the 1956 edition of the Green Book. Reading the Green Book itself doesn’t cause shock, but remembering its context certainly does.
The last edition of the Green Book was published in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Visit the University of South Carolina Libraries’ digital collection to learn more about the history of the Green Book, read the entire book (it’s only 88 pages), and view an interactive map plotting the restaurants, motels, and resorts that were willing to serve and house African-American travelers.