I discussed the history and social context briefly around The Negro Motorist’s Green Book on my Instagram Stories “World News Wednesday” and in my last black friendly travel post. The film Green Book had a controversial Best Picture Oscar win but despite what you thought of the movie, I hope that it made you curious about the book that Viggo Mortensen’s character, Tony, was given by the record company: The Negro Motorist’s Green Book. This guide book, written by postal worker Victor Hugo Green in 1936 promised “vacation without aggravation” for black travelers. At the time, with the upward mobility of black people in the United States, and many being able to afford cars, and trips, they began to encounter the problem of “traveling while black.” Black motorists who drove nice cars sometimes went as far as to carry chauffeurs hats as a disguise for fear of harassment by law enforcement (has much changed?)! Often black people would pack food and even gasoline with them on their journey as many rest stops on the road did not serve them. And this wasn’t solely a Jim Crow South problem. There were tons of sundown towns in Illinois; Glendale and Culver City, California were as well. Green was from Harlem, NYC and originally the guide covered New York and the surrounding areas; there were several establishments in Harlem where black people were not allowed entrance. Motorists would spend hours trying to figure out where to sleep that evening and ensuring they did not enter sundown towns (towns where blacks were not allowed after dark). Also not featured in the film but an important aspect, the Negro Motorist’s Green Book highlighted black-owned businesses. The film gave a pretty narrow view of this, highlighting the white establishments as luxury while the black ones as run down and one-dimensional but this was far from the truth. There were the run down establishments but also the mid-range to quite comfortable. The guide was published through the late 1960s. There were other black travel guides at the time but the Green Book was definitely the most popular, reaching a circulation of 2 million by 1962. Vogue magazine’s 2017 circulation was 1,242,282.
Something that came up during my Instagram story that people responded to — and have in the past — is that I’ve never driven cross country in the US while I have in Italy. When people ask if me if I’m eager to do so, I’m conflicted. I am, but I do have some hesitation. Growing up black in America you get a little extra education. You know what sundown towns are, you know about the razing of Greenwood, Black Wall Street. Even if you’re so cushioned that you’d most likely never be near these places, or cross paths with these people, black parents feel like it’s their duty in raising a black child to make them aware of this history (and present). I remember a few years ago I was at an industry cocktail party and spoke to a brilliant woman that works in television production. American, her family was of Indian descent and her husband was white, Jewish American (FYI there were also Jewish travel guides in the 1930s). With my profession travel naturally came up and how I wanted to see more of the United States. We talked about the famed cross country road trip and a cool black woman hiker we both followed that just did the Appalachian trial. This well-travelled well educated woman then said to me, “that’s not for me though” and recounted driving down to Myrtle Beach. They stopped at a gas station and her husband asked her to stay in the car as he didn’t feel comfortable with her coming out in that place. They are an interracial couple, she’s brown, he’s protective of her as a woman, there were a lot of things at play here but traveling while brown is a real thing.
Today, politicians and television anchors speak of “terrorism” as though it is a new phenomenon to the United States. Terrorism is not new and to think so is a grievous slight to the nation’s native peoples, to its multitudes of immigrants, and to its legions of black Americans—all of whom have long been terrorized for calling America home. In fact, even before Route 66 was officially connected and enshrined, the roads that would come to form it linked one atrocity to the next.Candacy Taylor, The Roots of Route 66
I came across an article on The Atlantic from 2016, The Roots of Route 66 that expresses my reservations about the famed cross country road trip. Black people were discouraged from doing parts of it initially. I can’t stress how good this article is. The author vividly (and briefly) recounts America’s terrorism history and why a book like the Green Book was necessary. Candacy Taylor takes you through the historical racial atrocities committed on Route 66 making that jingle “get your kicks on Route 66” seem like a warped joke. We’ve come a long way as a country, a lot of healing has been done but this in entrenched in America’s history and should be recognized. Perhaps it’s why so many of you even come to my Black-friendly travel blog post — that passed down generational trauma that says “I need this place to be vetted.” Or “people that look like me can’t afford to be explorers.”
I want my site to be a resource to you. I always have my spidey senses up when I travel and I am open and honest. We deserve to see the world too and I want to help you do it.