Route 66 News

Michael Wallis to speak about segregated road travel

This could be interesting. Michael Wallis, author of “Route 66: The Mother Road,” will give a lecture tomorrow at the Tulsa Historical Society titled “No ‘Good Old Days’ for Everyone” — using the “Negro Motorist Green Book.”

As automobile use became more prolific in the 1930s, many Americans enjoyed traveling the U.S. for leisure. While white travelers did not have to worry about where to stop for food, gas or rest, African Americans were faced with the daunting task of navigating such stops in a segregated society.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was published from 1936 until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 as a resource for African Americans traveling the country. Author and historian Michael Wallis will explore The Negro Motorist Green Book and how the social stigmas faced by not only African Americans, but also other minorities, have impacted travel and leisure throughout our nation’s history.

You can go here to Negro Motorist Green Bookview a PDF of a 1949 edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book.

The guidebook says it provides a “list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems. It was the idea of Victor H. Green, the publisher, in introducing the Green Book, to save the travelers of his race as many difficulties and embarrassments as possible.”

“Difficulties” was a euphemism for “beatings or worse.” In certain parts of the country, if a white person were offended, black motorists often were in physical danger. Although the number of lynchings of black Americans started to decline in the mid-1920s, there were still three confirmed such killings even in 1949.

On Route 66, black motorists often had to go long stretches between “tourist homes” to stay the night. In Illinois, for instance, there was nothing listed in the Green Book between Chicago and Springfield, and nothing between Springfield and East St. Louis. Those are distances of well over 100 miles on primitive two-lane roads.

The book listed nothing between St. Louis to Lebanon, Mo. In Oklahoma, nothing outside of Tulsa or Oklahoma City. In New Mexico, nothing between Tucumcari and Albuquerque. And in Arizona, nothing at all that would accommodate black travelers.

I had a hunch Wallis was researching this topic recently, as he talked about old-fashioned racism on Route 66 during the recent Route 66 Summit. Wallis is a diligent researcher of history; it will be interesting to see if there’s anything else interesting that he dug up.

The lecture will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tulsa Historical Society.


8 thoughts on “Michael Wallis to speak about segregated road travel

  1. Eric

    After reading the book Sundown Towns, I’m incredibly glad that he is doing this. A little surprised, but very happy, as it’s very necessary.

  2. Scott Piotrowski

    Mr. Wallis knows the ins and outs of much of 66, the truths and fictions, the myths and legends, and even the horror. Hearing him actually discuss Bloody 66 once was riveting. This would be an absolutely fascinating presentation, especially in a town with Tulsa’s race history.

  3. CarlB

    Wikipedia claims the Green Book to be one of multiple guides for US negro travellers, albeit the most notable. Any chance the other guide would have had anything for Arizona?

    From [[motel]] on Wikipedia:
    “In town, tourist homes were private residences advertising rooms for auto travellers. Unlike boarding houses, guests at tourist homes were usually just passing through.[5] In the southwestern United States, a handful of tourist homes were opened by African-Americans as early as the Great Depression due to the lack of food or lodging for travellers of color in the Jim Crow conditions of the era.[6]

    “There were things money couldn’t buy on Route 66. Between Chicago and Los Angeles you couldn’t rent a room if you were tired after a long drive. You couldn’t sit down in a restaurant or diner or buy a meal no matter how much money you had. You couldn’t find a place to answer the call of nature even with a pocketful of money…if you were a person of color traveling on Route 66 in the 1940s and ’50s.”
    —Irv Logan, Jr.[7]

    The Negro Motorist Green Book (1936–64) listed lodgings, restaurants, fuel stations, liquor stores, barber and beauty salons without racial restrictions; the smaller Directory of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses in the United States (1939, US Travel Bureau) specialized in accommodations.[8] Segregation of US tourist accommodation would legally be ended by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by a court ruling in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States affirming that Congress’ powers over interstate commerce extend to regulation of local incidents (such as racial discrimination in a motel serving interstate travellers) which might substantially and harmfully affect that commerce.[9]”

    5^ John A. Jakle; Keith A. Sculle; Jefferson S. Rogers (1 April 2002). The Motel in America. JHU Press. pp. 35–. ISBN 978-0-8018-6918-1. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
    6^ Becky Snider, Debbie Sheals (January 14, 2003). “Route 66 in Missouri: Survey and National Register project S7215MSFACG SURVEY REPORT”. National Park Service.
    7^ Irv Logan, Jr., “…Money Couldn’t Buy,” in C.H. (Skip) Curtis (Nov 28, 2001). The Birthplace of Route 66: Springfield, MO. Curtis Enterprises. p. 31. ISBN 9780963386359.
    8^ a b c William and Nancy Young (March 30, 2007). The Great Depression in America: a cultural encyclopedia. Greenwood. pp. 315–318. ISBN 978-0313335204.
    9^ Text of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964)

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