Negro Motorist Green Book inspires photography book

The Negro Motorist Green Book played a key role in a fashion photographer’s book, “Reclaiming the Mother Road,” that portrays two stylish African-American women traveling Route 66 in Southern California.

Photographer Ashley E. Osborne‘s eye, along with the charisma of models Tsola Akuya and Monia Hicks and their striking clothing, created dozens of images that pop from the pages at Route 66 landmarks in the Los Angeles region.

Among the locations in “Reclaiming the Mother Road” include Oro Grande’s downtown, the Cucamonga Service Station in Rancho Cucamonga and the Aztec Hotel in Monrovia.

In her text, Osborne states she wanted to do a fashion photo shoot with African-American models along Route 66 in Southern California. During her research, she discovered the history of the Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936 to 1967 to help guide such travelers to gas stations, restaurants and motels that were safe for them during the Jim Crow era.

She writes:

We typically think of the South when we consider racism during the time when Route 66 was most active, but it’s true that when many White Americans migrated freely across the country, they brought their racism along to settle with them. […] I learned about the White-only “sundown towns of middle America that upheld laws making it acceptable to lynch Black people (and other people of color) seen around town after sunset. I learned about the terrorism of racism that Black people could face if they simply walked into the wrong restaurant, stopped at the wrong gas station, or attempted to book a room in the wrong hotel while trying to experience a new American freedom.

Osborne said the intent of the book was to pay tribute to her ancestors who braved racism to travel throughout America.

My intention is to recreate and capture the strength, intelligence, beauty, and boldness in
images that they didn’t have the opportunity to.

This is Osborne’s first book, so it shouldn’t be surprising it contains shortcomings. A list of the Route 66 sites where she shot the photos would have been helpful for those who wish to explore these locations on their own.

“Reclaiming the Mother Road” also doesn’t contain information about where to buy the fabulous clothing and shoes the women wear. I suspect many readers will be doing Google Image searches of the eye-catching, bright yellow bellbottom slacks one model wears.

I emailed Osborne several days ago to ask about the Route 66 locations and clothing suppliers, but I didn’t receive a reply. (Disclosure: She provided a PDF copy of the book for review purposes.) Perhaps this information will be in future editions.

One could see Osborne or another fashion photographer expand the concept to the rest of the Mother Road. One intriguing possibility is the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, where African-American customers once were forbidden from placing orders except in the back door of the business. A woman who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation — another minority group — owns the restaurant and raised it to must-stop status on Route 66.

The print version of the 28-page portrait-size book retails for $50.99. A PDF version of the book sells for $12.99. You can order here.

(Hat tip to Michele Hansford)

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