Safe Travels?

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guidebook for black travelers during times of discrimination and adversity. Published by Victor Hugo Green, the book circulated from 1936 until 1966, prominent during the Jim Crow era. There were many dangers black members of society would face, as they traveled to unfamiliar territories across the roads of the United States. During this time a plethora of hotels, restaurants and attractions remained unavailable to African Americans due to racial prejudices.

The Green Book highlighted places that were safe havens for African Americans across the United States. Blacks were flocking to purchase automobiles to escape the segregation and hatred they faced when using public transportation. This book was considered a necessity, especially useful to  black entertainers and athletes, who traveled often. Many black travelers fell victim to racial profiling, and law enforcement was especially hostile to unfamiliar black visitors.

Prior to the release of The Green Book, in 1931, Louis Armstrong and his band were arrested in Memphis, Tennessee. The band was traveling to a performance in Arkansas, when there was a dispute between Mrs. Collins (Louis’s manager’s wife) and the superintendent of the company from which they rented charter bus.  The superintendent targeted Louis’s band based solely on their ethnicity. He insisted that they evacuate the bus they initially rented, in exchange for a bus of lower quality. Mrs. Collins refused this proposition because she already paid extra money for the use of the bus they occupied.  Enraged, the superintendent summoned the Memphis Police and all of the members of the band were arrested, disregarding the fact the band members had committed no crime. During the arrest, they were harassed with racial slurs. Band member Preston Jackson states in his book Trombone Man, “I can hear them now. ‘Alright-get out niggers, get out you niggers’.”

The Greenbook was useful for avoiding unnecessary encounters, such as Louis’s in 1931. It came equipped with information regarding businesses that would accommodate African Americans without hassle. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, the use of The Green Book ceased. Racial discrimination became illegal and there was no longer a need for it usage.

 

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