A recent project has digitized some of America’s most damning ever travel documents: the Green Book travel guides for black motorists. These were published from the 1930s until the 1960s to help law-abiding American travelers avoid harassment and inconvenience due to the color of their skin. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library has put up 21 issues, from 1937 to 1963-4, “for vacation without aggravation.”
Grateful users thanked Victor Green, author and publisher of the Green Book. One letter, also digitized as part of the archive, states: “the only way we knew where and how to reach our pleasure resorts was in a way of speaking, by word of mouth, until the publication of ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’.”
Given the almost grotesque circumstances that led to their creation, the Green Books appear at first glance like charming period pieces. The Introduction to the 1949 edition reads:
With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable. The Jewish press has long published information about places that are restricted and there are numerous publications that give the gentile whites all kinds of information. But during these long years of discrimination, before 1936 other guides have been published for the Negro.
Perhaps the mere existence is something that many, given the recent controversy over display of the Confederate flag, would like to forget. But the NYPL has made sure that the Green Book, and the society which made it necessary, will not be forgotten.