The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, the Pre-Civil Rights Guide to Traveling Safely in the U.S. (1936–66)

Green Book Cover

Pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment has roman­ti­cized the idea of the road trip as a whol­ly spon­ta­neous adven­ture, but for mid-cen­tu­ry African Amer­i­can motorists, plan­ning was essen­tial. The lodg­ings, restau­rants, and tourist attrac­tions where they could be assured of a warm wel­come were often few and far between in the era of seg­re­ga­tion.

The Negro Trav­el­ers’ Green Book, first print­ed in 1936, was an invalu­able resource for trav­el­ers of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly when their route took them out­side of urban areas. In the pre-Inter­net age, pub­lish­er Vic­tor Green, a Harlem-dwelling mail­man, relied on read­ers to sup­ply feed­back and new loca­tions for sub­se­quent edi­tions:

There are thou­sands of first class busi­ness places that we don’t know about and can’t list, which would be glad to serve the trav­el­er, but it is hard to secure list­ings of these places since we can’t secure enough agents to send us the infor­ma­tion. Each year before we go to press the new infor­ma­tion is includ­ed in the new edi­tion. When you are trav­el­ing please men­tion the Green Book, in order that they might know how you found their place of busi­ness, as they can see that you are strangers. If they haven’t heard about this guide, ask them to get in touch with us so that we might list their place. If this guide has proved use­ful to you on your trips, let us know. If not, tell us also as we appre­ci­ate your crit­i­cisms and ideas in the improve­ment of this guide from which you ben­e­fit. There will be a day some­time in the near future when this guide will not have to be pub­lished. That is when we as a race will have equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and priv­i­leges in the Unit­ed States. It will be a great day for us to sus­pend this pub­li­ca­tion for then we can go wher­ev­er we please, and with­out embar­rass­ment. But until that time comes we shall con­tin­ue to pub­lish this infor­ma­tion for your con­ve­nience each year.

- from the intro­duc­tion to the 1949 edi­tion

The New York Pub­lic Library’s Schom­burg Cen­ter for Research in Black Cul­ture has dig­i­tized 21 vol­umes of its Green Book col­lec­tion for your brows­ing plea­sure. It’s a trip back in time.

Green Book Points of Interest NYC

1936’s pre­mier edi­tion is geared toward vis­i­tors spend­ing time in and around New York City. In appear­ance, it resem­bles a church bul­letin or com­mu­ni­ty the­ater pro­gram, with busi­ness card ads for beau­ty salons spe­cial­iz­ing in mar­cel wav­ing and restau­rants serv­ing South­ern home cook­ing. Pub­lish­er Green extols the won­ders of Coney Island, Chi­na­town, and the The­atri­cal Dis­trict, even as he notes that “the col­ored show hous­es are in Harlem.” He also seeks to give read­ers a laugh with “How to Keep From Grow­ing Old,” a dri­ver-spe­cif­ic list that could be read aloud from the pas­sen­ger seat for the mer­ri­ment of every­one in the car. (“In slop­py weath­er, dri­ve close to pedes­tri­ans. Dry clean­ers appre­ci­ate this.”)

Green Book Westchester

The Green Book soon swelled to include nation­al list­ings, as tourists and busi­ness trav­el­ers heed­ed Green’s call to beef up the info.

1961’s 25th anniver­sary edi­tion includes a his­to­ry of the enter­prise, a fair amount of typos, newsy updates on the staff, and a renewed promise to list the best places on the moon, should lunar trav­el become an option.

Green Book Pg 5

Green Book 25th Anniversary

Arm­chair trav­el­ers can take the NYPL’s dig­i­tized col­lec­tion out for a spin by enter­ing coor­di­nates into a map­ping fea­ture for 1947 or 1956.

Start­ing in my Indi­ana home­town with sights set on Man­hat­tan took me to the Cot­tage Restau­rant in Colum­bus, Ohio, the Jones Restau­rant in Grafton, West Vir­ginia, and the beau­ti­ful­ly named Trott Inn in Philadel­phia, before I final­ly lay my vir­tu­al head at the Amer­i­ca Hotel. (These days, it would be the Mil­len­ni­um Broad­way.)

Green Book 1956

Enjoy your trip. In the words of Vic­tor Green, “let’s all get togeth­er and make motor­ing bet­ter.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Robert Penn War­ren Archive Brings Ear­ly Civ­il Rights to Life

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She doc­u­ment­ed her mis­ad­ven­tures on the road in No Touch Mon­key! And Oth­er Trav­el Lessons Learned Too Late Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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  • Rho says:

    Awww, this is AMAAAAZING.., (and decid­ed­ly sur­re­al..!!!) Thank You for tak­ing the time to share it… My gawd.., tru­ly shock­ing how much my “his­to­ry books/classes” left..out. Life is spent UN-learn­ing, in order to try and tru­ly com­pre­hend…

  • Linda Schell says:

    I’m new to com­put­ers, and I don’t under­stand how to access free domain pic­tures from your site. I’m look­ing for pic­tures of Niki­ta Khrushchev, prefer­ably clip art type if pos­si­ble. Would you please send me instruc­tions. Thank you.

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