“The White traveler has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro, it has been different.” So reads the foreword of a series of travel guides called Green Books, created to help black Americans travel safely through a segregated and often unsafe country during the years of Jim Crow.
The Green Books are among a giant new free digital archive of over 187,000 historical documents including maps, postcards, photographs, and documents released by The New York Public Library and reported on recently by my colleague Adrienne LaFrance.
Named after its creator Victor H. Green, a postal worker in New York, the Green Books were published between the 1930s and the 1960s, halting when the Civil Rights Act finally ended the legal practice of segregation. In a 2010 interview with NPR, the civil-rights activist and the then-chairman of the NAACP Julian Bond recalled his family’s use of the travel guides during road trips. “My family had a ‘Green Book’ when I was young,” he said, “and used it to travel in the South to find out where we could stop to eat, where we could spend the night in a hotel or somebody’s home.”
Also in a 2010 interview with The New York Times, Lonnie Bunch, the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture added his own memories. “The ‘Green Book’ tried to provide a tool to deal with those situations,” he said. “It also allowed families to protect their children, to help them ward off those horrible points at which they might be thrown out or not permitted to sit somewhere. It was both a defensive and a proactive mechanism.”