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 view 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.