Before #TravelNoire, the Black Travel Movement may have seemed like an upper-class privilege. But in reality, Black people have been traveling this whole time – we’ve just had to maneuver restrictions and prejudice in the process. And that hasn’t always been well-documented.
During Jim Crow, it was dangerous to travel while Black. Laws mandated that public places in the South were strictly separate for whites and Blacks, and racists used lynchings to enforce the law as it was both written and understood. Not only did these laws restrict where Black folks could eat, drink or use the restroom while on the road, it also impacted their actual modes of transportation. Buses and trains were segregated, including meal cars if/when available; and pervasive racial discrimination and poverty limited Black car ownership. Nevertheless, automobiles provided an escape from the discomfort and segregation of public accommodations. And thus, our road trips became the solution to the Jim Crow south and a prejudiced America.
While vacations may have been infrequent, and both work and family-related travel encumbered, we – as always – made our own solutions to life’s challenges. From 1936 to 1966, Victor Hugo-Green, a New York City mailman, published The Negro Motorist Green Book (aka the Negro Travelers’ Green Book or Green Book). The Green Book provided a guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans and eventually expanded to a full-fledged travel agency with each across North America and beyond. So what types of issues did the Green book solve?
- White-owned businesses refusing to serve food to Black patrons
- White-owned businesses refusing to repair Black-owned and/or occupied vehicles
- Black travelers unable to secure overnight accommodation or denied food by white hotel-owners
- Black travelers facing violence and forcible expulsion from whites-only “sundown towns”
….and the list continues.
The Green Book was organized by city and state and also shared information on upcoming conventions, beauty parlors, gas stations, night clubs, and city profiles to entice tourism to particular areas.
We’ve got our hands on a digital version of an actual Green Book – originally published in 1949. Check it out here and hit the road!