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.”
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”