Traveling as a black person between 1936-1966 was not for the faint of heart. It meant having to travel through “sundown towns,” where blacks were not allowed out after dark, and facing intimidation and often even physical threats of violence.
That is why Harlem postman Victor Green wrote The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was an annual guide to places safe to visit along Route 66 and across the nation.
“It was so much more than a black travel guide,” Candacy Taylor, who documents Green Book sites along Route 66 said. “It was more than hotels and restaurants. It listed different stores and churches, barbershops and beauty salons and mechanics.”
Green knew how serious the danger was if a black person got even a flat tire in a sundown town and found a way to address the issue.
Taylor found the book by accident while writing about Route 66 and was surprised that the book wasn’t well known. She was also puzzled as to why the businesses that helped out the black travelers weren’t seen as culturally significant.
For many of the African-Americans who used the book and the businesses, these sites will never be forgotten.
According to Stefan Bradley, who is a professor of history and African-American Studies at Saint Louis University, the book allowed families to avoid the embarrassment of being refused access to bathrooms and even food. It also kept them safe.
“It was small but it was powerful because it spoke to the idea that black people would find a way to get around the kind of racism and oppression that existed in the country at the time,” Bradley states.
“The idea that one man – not a superhero but rather a postman – would figure out a way to help African Americans feel human when they were travelling – that makes it a powerful little book.”