Monday, January 4, 2016

“See the [segregated] USA, in your Chevrolet…”

Imagine that you’re traveling with your family by car, and you get held up in a town where you didn’t plan to spend the night.

Imagine whipping out your iPhone to check for local hotels that will rent a room to people like you.

Imagine that most hotels won’t give you a room, because you’re a Muslim. Or gay. Or black.

That’s whacky, you think?

Maybe you never heard of The Negro Motorist Green-Book.

In the 1930s, black travelers started carrying the Green-Book to help them find hotels and restaurants and gas stations that would serve black customers. In some areas there were plenty of hotels and restaurants and gas stations that wouldn’t do that. In some areas, it was called “Jim Crow.” In other places, it was just the way things were.

In 1936 a black New York City mailman named Victor Hugo Green thought of publishing a listing “of all first-class hotels throughout the United States that catered to Negroes.” Ultimately, he put together the first Green-Book, initially focused on the Big Apple, with listings for restaurants, service stations, hotels, tourist homes, taverns, liquor stores, beauty parlors, nightclubs, drugstores and tailors. That 10-page book sold for 25 cents. By 1949 it ran to 80 pages.

Every year Green put out about 15,000 copies of the book and continued to expand its geographic coverage. Jim Crow wasn’t confined to the South. One researcher has documented thousands of towns through the U.S. that were called "sundown towns" because they didn’t want black people to linger overnight. The typical advice to black folks was “get out before sundown.” For example, in the early 20th century a Connecticut town put up a sign that said: “Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.”

The Green-Book was last published in 1964. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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