Blog #23: Green Book and Your Summer Travel Plans

Most whites making summer plans never had to consider the racism that produced, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, "a puzzling query as to what to do with vacations."  Segregated restaurants, motels and service stations forced Black travelers to pack lots of food, toilet paper, a bucket, and extra gasoline.

They faced inconvenience and danger that can befall those who sleep in their cars on the side of the road. It wasn’t just in the south where Black people couldn’t find a bed.  For example, in 1956 only three motels served Blacks in all of New Hampshire, and of the 100+ motels on Route 66 in Albuquerque, only 6% did the same. Even in the 1960’s, a Black person found after dark in one of the 10,000 “sundown towns” – like Levittown, NY, or Glendale, CA – could be arrested.

To steer Black travelers to safe havens, Victor Green published the Green Book from 1936-1966. He hoped that when his race had “equal opportunities and privileges in the United States” the guide would no longer be needed.  Unfortunately, while segregation is “officially illegal” today, Black travelers still face racism and threats to life and limb.

It was the “seemingly endless parade of horrors” and Black deaths at the hands of police that led author Jan Miles to revive the publication under the new ironic name, The Post-Racial Negro Green Book. This 2018 version, however, does not point out places open to black vacationers.  It points to places where racial profiling, police violence, mass incarceration, sentencing disparities, and white privilege haunts many African Americans.

Miles draws from many sources: the ACLU, DA offices, and states’ civil rights agencies. Another rich source for data is the NAACP, an organization that existed during the years of the original Green Book, but in 2017 was compelled to issue “travel advisories” to avoid the state of Missouri and American Airlines!

 If this blog leads you to watch Oscar-winning film, Green Book, understand what infuriates Miles: the "mission-accomplished feel-good" ending. She reminds us that things are not so rosy.

Consider becoming an activist confronting businesses that tolerate racism. Watch Yoruba Richen’s clear-sighted documentary The Green Book: Guide to Freedom.  Unlike Hollywood’s portrayal of Green Book motels as dumps, Richen reminds us that most of the entries revealed examples of first-rate black entrepreneurship.  That’s something many racists can’t stand, as we’ll explore next week.

  • Lesson #97: Workers earning poverty wages, many of them people of color, cannot afford vacations.

  • Lesson #98: Being forced to hide in public to relieve oneself can generate feelings of shame, resentment, and anger.

  • Lesson #99: Before passage of the Civil Rights Act, Jim Crow was alive and well in many parts of the country, not just the south.

  • Lesson #100: While race-based discrimination is “officially banned,” traveling while black can still pose real dangers.

  • Lesson #101: Travel advisories, in the past issued for perilous areas outside the U.S., now warn of domestic white supremacy dangers.

  • Lesson #102: Black business wanted to be in the Green Book to indicate the high quality of their establishments.