The Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibition: March 19 – June 12, 2022

The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibition opens this Saturday, March 19, at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. This immersive, multimedia exhibit was curated by Candacy Taylor, former Harvard fellow and celebrated Green Book scholar, for the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service. The Green Book was published between 1936 and 1966 and became the bible of Black travel during the Jim Crow era, a time when racial segregation was legally enforced in the South, and discrimination was rife in the North and West as well.

This was also the age when the automobile became increasingly important in American life as a symbol of freedom and recreation. But for Black motorists, the experience of the open road was far less free than for whites. Travel for Black people was difficult, undignified, and dangerous. Black travelers were denied service at hotels and motels, at restaurants, at gas stations, and struggled to find places to simply use the restroom, or worse, faced intimidation and violence in “sundown towns.”

Close-up of the cover of the 1939 Green Book. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Green Book was created by Victor Hugo Green, a Harlem postal worker and entrepreneur, to help Black travelers and vacationers find businesses that would welcome them. According to one memoirist, “You literally didn’t dare leave home without it.”

In many places where there were no hotels or restaurants serving Black customers, Black entrepreneurs, many of them women, ran tourist homes by renting out rooms in their private residences and serving homemade meals. The Green Book demonstrates the creative response the Black business community had to the problems of segregation, discrimination, and violence in travel, and provides important documentary evidence of Black businesses and neighborhoods. Continue reading “The Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibition: March 19 – June 12, 2022”

Working it Out: From Emancipation to Economic Independence

After centuries of receiving no or minuscule compensation (by being hired out) for their labor, formerly enslaved people, at the stroke of a pen, were responsible for their own livelihood.

Seamstresses, servants, cooks, carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and masons could ply their trade. Most, however, of this country’s enslaved workforce had been deployed to cultivate monocrops. No matter their occupation, they were responsible for negotiating wages, securing housing, paying rent, purchasing supplies, buying and/or growing their own food, clothing themselves and their families.  After centuries of laws that denied them literacy, property and ownership of their own bodies and those of their children, thousands of people were thrust into a world that did not welcome their newly acquired status.

Continue reading “Working it Out: From Emancipation to Economic Independence”

Book-It Repertory Theatre’s RETURNING THE BONES: Beyond the Theatre

Her heart was as big as Texas. That’s why it takes more than twenty voices to relay the story of her life. Aunt BeBe, otherwise known as Dr. Carolyn Beatrice Hammond Montier, was a woman to be reckoned with.

Gin Hammond performing in Returning the Bones
Gin Hammond performing in Returning the Bones

Continue reading “Book-It Repertory Theatre’s RETURNING THE BONES: Beyond the Theatre”

City Council Reads – Rob Johnson, District 4

This past November, Seattle swore in a new Mayor and City Councilmember, and we here at ShelfTalk thought this would be a great opportunity to continue our series of posts in which we invited your representatives to share books that have meant a lot to them. This time, we asked them “What book was most influential in your life or career and why?” This week, Councilmember Rob Johnson, representing District 4, Northeast Seattle.

“What book was most influential in your life or career and why?”

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein made a huge impact on me, and continues to shape my work as I serve as the chair of the Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use & Zoning committee. This book represents a powerful examination of the way 20th century land use and zoning policy in America deepened the harmful divide of segregation, Continue reading “City Council Reads – Rob Johnson, District 4”

Where I’m Bound: African Americans and Migration in Art and Life

Click here to view Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series in the SPL catalogIt began with a poem! Reading the Langston Hughes poem One-Way Ticket inspired Jacob Lawrence to make a sketch of a train station waiting room filled with travelers, travelers like the ones seeking The Warmth of Other Suns. As a boy who became an artist, he knew about traveling. Lawrence moved from city to city and house to house until his mother, finally, found a place in Harlem for them to call home.

I was part of the migration,“ he says “as was my family… I was only
about 10, 11, or 12. I didn’t realize that we were even a part of that….I didn’t
realize what was happening until the middle of the 1930s, and that’s
when the Migration series began to take form in my mind.” 

In 1941, at the age of 23, Lawrence began painting works in a series that would become known as The Migration Series. Bookended by World War I and World War II, the work portrays an exodus, at once sweeping and, yet, singular in its focus. Long before his wet brush met a dry canvas, Lawrence had steeped himself in the works of writers and intellectuals focused on the Black migration and the role of the artist in art and culture. Where did he do so? At the library! The New York Public Library’s Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints, now known as The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, was instrumental in the artist’s development and formation of the work.  Continue reading “Where I’m Bound: African Americans and Migration in Art and Life”