As many of us prepare to hit the road this year to be with our loved ones on some of the most traveled days of the year, it would behoove us to reflect on how far we have come.
Nowadays, when African Americans travel across the country, we’re primarily concerned about where we’ll stay and activities we’ll partake in while on our trip. For Blacks during the height of the Jim Crow Era (1877-mid-1960s), a primary concern was making it to and from our destination safely, as traveling in a country plagued by racism was no easy feat.
In 1936, an African-American postal worker from Harlem by the name of Victor Green created a travel guide specifically designed to keep Blacks from harm, and without the humiliation of being turned away from establishments because of their race. Titled The Negro Motorist (or Negro Travelers’) Green Book, the book served as a guide for people of color traveling throughout the country when racial segregation was at its peak.
The guide was printed and distributed between the years 1936 and 1966, and featured safe places to stay and dine, but also gas stations, barber shops, beauty salons, tailors and nightclubs. Playwright and author Calvin Ramsey is now working to highlight the influence the guide had on Black travel during the Jim Crow Era. He’s releasing a documentary titled The Green Book Chronicles.
“Discrimination was so real that not only did [Black travelers] pack their own food; but also their own gas. You never knew when traveling while Black what was going to happen to you, and if you had kids with you, it just added to the anxiety,” Ramsey told NBC News.
Ramsey was inspired to create the film after the grandfather of a deceased family friend asked for a Green Book so that he could travel from New York to a funeral being held in the South, according to the report. The lack of knowledge surrounding the Green Books prompted Ramsey to delve deeper into their history.
“I spoke to college educated people, librarians, and not one time did these people mention the Green Book or talk about how hard it was for us on the road. I think a part of this lost history was due to the pain and embarrassment that Black parents didn’t want to pass down to their children,” he told the outlet.
A message written by Green Book creator Victor Green in the first edition spoke volumes to how heated the racial climate was in America. He called on African-Americans to serve as positive emissaries of the Black community.
“Back then it mattered how you looked. For some if you dressed well you may be treated a little better, not always, but sometimes. However, nowadays this doesn’t seem to matter. You should be respectable and treat others with dignity; but that alone isn’t enough. To do it just because you think it will protect you … it won’t now. Back then it worked some; but people were still being lynched,” Ramsey continued.
Ever since learning about the Green Book, Ramsey says he’s dedicated his career to keeping Victor Green’s legacy alive through screenplays, books, and other mediums. He believes that these guides are an integral part of history and he doesn’t want Green’s efforts to be in vain.
“This was put together with love from Black people for each other to keep each other safe,” Ramsey said. “The Green Book to me was a love letter of sorts. There was a time when we loved each other so much that we would open our homes just to keep another Black person safe. You could be a superstar, a singer, an artist and in those days still have no place to stay, eat or bathe while on the road, so this book was about the love and ability to preserve our dignity.”
SOURCE: NBC News