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The guide was fueled by a vision and a wish that seemed improbable: that Black people in America could experience dignity, comfort, and safety as they navigated the world.

Car over green line
“What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life…Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain…I’m concerned about justice.”
– MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, 1967
Image credit: Birmingham Protests, 1963. Charles Moore. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (c) Charles Moore.
Civil Rights Movement

The Green Book  listed some of the most significant locations central to the movement.

Without safe places to plan, strategize, debrief, and recuperate, civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 60s would have failed to push social justice forward in America. From hotels to beauty shops, these places became the headquarters for holding America accountable to its promise of liberty and justice for all.


MLK in Church

Martin Luther King Jr., preaches at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 1955. Charles Moore. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (c) Charles Moore.

Martin Luther King Jr, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people dressed in suits, or funeral attire, walking in a procession through the streets of Jackson, Mississippi.

Funeral Procession

In a Show of Support that Brought Together Different Factions of the Movement, Civil Rights Leaders Joined Funeral Procession of NAACP Activist Medgar Evers, Jackson, Mississippi, 1963, 1963. Charles Moore. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (c) Charles Moore.


The Dunbar Hotel

The Dunbar was originally built as the Somerville hotel in 1928 by John Alexander Somerville and his wife Vada Somerville, both were Black dentists. By the time it first appeared in the 1939 Green Book it had been sold and renamed as the Dunbar Hotel and was listed in 17 more editions.

The Dunbar became the cultural and social hub for Black intellectuals and activists. Celes King III, who became a bail bondsman to civil rights leaders and protesters, was a regular at the Dunbar. W. E. B. Du Bois, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington were also regulars. It became something of an unofficial country club for the Black elite.

“Civil rights issues were discussed openly every night at the Dunbar.”

—Jimmy Nelson, former NAACP president, Los Angeles branch, 1994 Image Credit: Dunbar Hotel, 1987. [Guy Goodenow], [Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection]/Los Angeles Public Library.

Dunbar building exterior

A.G. Gaston Motel

The A. G. Gaston Motel, named after its owner, was a Green Book site listed in Birmingham, Alabama. Gaston insisted that he could create a motel that was available to people traveling while Black. It served high-end clientele and was considered the best place for Black people to stay in the city. At the A. G. Gaston, you felt safe to congregate, eat, socialize, and strategize.

Martin Luther King Jr. regularly stayed at A. G. Gaston’s and held meetings in his “war room” to organize. It was here that King decided to go to jail to support the movement. During that incarceration in 1963, King wrote his influential “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

[Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy outside A.G. Gaston Motel,] 1963. Birmingham Police Department. Birmingham, Ala. Public Library Archives.

Birmingham Public Library
March to protest violence against SNCC-led protestors, Montgomery 1965

The Ben Moore Hotel & Malden Brothers Barbershop

The four-story Ben Moore Hotel was a popular Green Book listing in Montgomery, Alabama. The hotel was built in 1952, by M.F. Dinty Moore, a carpenter who was the son of a tenant farmer.

Before, during, and after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King and his inner circle held secret meetings on the roof of the Ben Moore Hotel. On the first floor, Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, officials from the NAACP, and other civil rights leaders socialized in the Malden Brothers Barbershop.

Nelson Malden regularly cut Dr. Martin Luther King’s hair at Malden Brothers Barbershop at the Ben Moore Hotel.

March to Protest Violence Against SNCC-led Protestors, Montgomery, 1965. Bob Adelman. ©Bob Adelman Estate.


Motel Simbeth

Modjeska Simkins co-owned Motel Simbeth, a Green Book site from 1956 to 1961 in Columbia, South Carolina. The motel’s motto was: “Rest for the weary on this side of the Jordan.”

Motel Simbeth offered accommodation for Black travelers, and was used as a headquarters for civil rights efforts, including important work with the NAACP. Simkins also housed civil rights leaders passing through South Carolina at her home, among them Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

Known as the “matriarch of civil rights activists in South Carolina,” Simbeth’s birth date of December 5 is now recognized as Modjeska Simkins Day in Columbia, South Carolina.

“I don’t even hate the Ku Klux Klan, because if they’re fool enough to do what they want to do . . . just so they don’t come here and step off that sidewalk onto my walkway . . . they can build a cross right out there if they want to, but don’t come up on my porch.”

—Modjeska Simkins, civil rights activist

[Home of Modjeska Simkins]. Photograph by Candacy Taylor.

Modjeska Simkins House
Change is Gonna come

In the last decades of the Green Book’s publication, the content of the Green Book grew bolder, mirroring the political tone of the day. The streets throughout America were buzzing with change—students, teachers, preachers, mothers, and fathers were part of a community of activists agitating the status quo.

Travelers on the road were a part of this sea change, and the editors of the Green Book met them there.

People being hit with a water cannon
Alabama Fire Department Aims High-Pressure Water Hoses at Civil Rights Demonstrators, 1963.
Charles Moore. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (c) Charles Moore.

“Every age across recorded time, had its minority group pinioned in the talons of prejudice…History shows the rewards gained when a race made its own struggle against the ebb and flow of local and national passions.


1960 has been quite an eventful year for Negroes in both domestic and foreign affairs. Our young generation with their successful sit-in demonstrations have prodded the older generation to greater effort in the struggle for civic dignity.”

– NOVERA DASHIELL, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, 1961 edition

The Lorraine Motel
[Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel]. Courtesy of National Civil Rights Museum.
The Lorraine Motel

The old Marquette Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, was purchased in 1945 by Walter and Loree Bailey, who renamed it the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine became a popular Green Book destination that served both Black and white guests—including Black musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, and Sarah Vaugh, who stayed there when recording or performing in Memphis.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also a periodic guest—including on the fateful day of April 4, 1968, when he was shot and killed on the balcony of Room 306. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke in the hours after King’s assassination, and died five days later.


Click on the covers to learn more

Green Book 1952

1952 In 1952, the Green Book underwent a seismic paradigm shift, changing its name from the Negro Motorist Geen Book to the Negro Travelers’ Green Book. Victor Green said he changed the name because it was “confusing and a good many people thought it was intended for the motorist only, but [it] is used for any mode of travel.” The Negro Travelers Green Book, 1952. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

Green Book cover with a face and globe

1960 The cover image on the 1960 edition of the guide was meaningful as it pushed against an American beauty standard that had a preference for lighter skin and straighter hair. Previous covers made conscious design decisions to show images that were “mainstream” in a Jim Crow world.

Travelers' Green Book, 1960. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

Green Book cover with woman water skiing

1966-1967 The final edition of the Green Book, 1966-1967, had a lighthearted spirit, and for the first time since 1940, the color green is gone, replaced by turquoise and magenta.

An illustration of a woman is featured waterskiing and snow skiing simultaneously, wearing a snowsuit on one half of her body and a bikini on the other. While this last edition celebrated glamour and a “we can do it all” attitude, it is contrasted by the 1960 cover that captures a more specific image of Black identity. The 60s were the height of the Black revolution where many aspects of Black identity were explored, and the Green Book reflected its time.

Travelers' Green Book, 1966-1967. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.