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CONTENT

THE NEGRO MOTORIST GREEN BOOK

guided Black Americans to thousands
of businesses for over thirty years.

Car over green line

When the first Green Book  was published,
the American road was a metaphor for freedom.

Yet, in 20th century America, this same road
was a dangerous place for Black citizens.

The land was divided by segregation—through policy or through custom. If you were Black, the prejudice was severe: a systematic effort to deny access to your basic human rights.

The landmark 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, created a legal precedent for the separation of Americans by race.

The resulting policies constructed an intricate system of rules and regulations that disempowered Black people and subjected them to constant harassment.

THIS WAS JIM CROW.
Colored waiting room sign Drinking at a water cooler
Top - [Sign at a bus station in Rome, Georgia], 1943. Esther Bubley. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-fsa-8d33365.
Left - [Negro drinking at "Colored" water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma], 1939. Russell Lee. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-fsa-8a26761.

I looked in my rear view mirror and there was a guy in Klan outfit approaching me from the back. Full Klan outfit.
The face was cutout. I could see his face,
and it was right at dusk dark.

And I said to myself,‘ What can I do?’”

- Curtis Graves, former Texas state legislator and NASA Director of Civil Affairs

Imagine the indignity of government-backed and socially normalized oppression. Imagine the pain, the violence, the disrespect. And yet and still, African Americans created destinations and strategies that affirmed their humanity, their worth, their light. And, took to the roads.
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Flirting Couple at Car

Man in Car Flirting with Woman, ca. 1955. Charles "Teenie" Harris. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Gift from Charles A. Harris and Beatrice Harris in memory of Charles "Teenie" Harris. (c) Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive.

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Family in a car

[Side View Outdoor Smiling African American Family Father Mother Two Sons Sitting in Four Door Sedan], 1950s. H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/ClassicStock.

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Four Women outside Car

[Four-young African American women standing beside a convertible automobile], ca. 1958. WANN Radio Station Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

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Boys on Car on Easter

[Negro boys on Easter morning. Southside, Chicago, Illinois], 1941. Russell Lee. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-00256.

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Migrants on Way to Jersey

[Group of Florida migrants on their way to Cranberry, New Jersey, to pick potatoes, near Shawboro, North Carolina], 1940. Jack Delano. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-fsa-8c02701.

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Travelers by Cadillac

[Travelers in front of a Cadillac]. Lake County Historical Society, Baldwin, Michigan.

The American proclamation of freedom has always been intertwined with travel.

Road into Distance, Linnaea Mallette, CCO Public Domain
Auto dealership lot

By the 1930s, there were nearly thirty million cars on the road, and 85% of Americans vacationed by car. Significantly, the car industry created a new path to prosperity for Black Americans. In a Jim Crow world, where policy limited access to affordable housing and neighborhoods of choice, having a car opened your world. It was a prized possession, as thrilling as it was useful. It was a portal to humanity, from work and family functions to household needs and leisurely getaways. Credit: The Travelers' Green Book, 1960. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

We Can Fix Em towing service graphic

Credit: The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1947. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

Green Book Car Ads - 1937

“The automobile has been a special blessing to the Negro.”—The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1938 edition Credit: The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1937. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

Auto mechanic next to a car

Mechanics could earn as much as $25 to $50 a week. Many Black men migrated to northern cities to earn these higher wages, ensuring a better standard of living—enabling many the opportunity to buy a car of their own. Credit: [Auto mechanic Sam "Scotty" Scott], ca. 1944. Charles "Teenie" Harris. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Charles A. Harris and Beatrice Harris in memory of Charles "Teenie" Harris, (C) Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive.

Wares Super Market listing

Since legal enslavement, financial independence has been critical to Black liberation in America. The Green Book would not have been possible if not for the community of self-sufficient, talented, and successful Black businesses that filled its pages. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, understood the significance of Black businesses to Black civil rights. Credit: The Travelers' Green Book, 1960. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

Click on the images to learn more information

Victor H. Green headshot
VICTOR H. GREEN

He was a postal worker.
He was an entrepreneur.
He was an innovator.

Victor Green lived in the famed Sugar Hill community in Harlem, New York. Until his retirement in 1952, Victor Green was a full-time letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office five days a week. When he created the Green Book, he enlisted his fellow postmen to make contact with Black entrepreneurs along their routes, and invite them to list in the Green Book as well as sell the guide to travelers.

The Negro Travelers' Green Book, Fall 1956. & The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1948. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.