If you’ve got about an hour to kill, I highly recommend you watch “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom” that originally aired on the Smithsonian Channel in February 2019.
The full 51-minute video showed up Monday on the Smithsonian’s YouTube channel:
For the uninitiated, the Negro Motorist Green Book was published during the Jim Crow segregation era from 1936 to 1966 as a guide for African American motorists to avoid danger and humiliation.
The episode contains a lot of eye candy in family movies shot during 1950s and ’60s road trips. It also contains interviews with Candacy Taylor, author of “Overground Railroad,” the definitive history of the Green Book.
The Route 66 content begins about the halfway mark when singer Nat King Cole is inexplicably attacked by six white men during a concert in Alabama. King, with his recording of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” played as big of a role in Route 66 becoming a cultural touchstone as anybody.
The video goes into the fact Route 66 was not a welcoming destination for many African Americans, especially in light of about half of the counties on the highway contained “sundown towns” during the 1950s. But it also tells about the black-owned Alberta’s Hotel along Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri, that proved to be an oasis for such travelers.
Especially shocking is the segment about Pierce City, Missouri, where three black men were lynched after being accused of killing a white woman. The rest of the town’s black residents were literally driven out of town and their homes burned. More about the riot can be read here.
The episode also talks briefly about the Great Migration, where thousands of black Americans left the Jim Crow South for better jobs in the North. More about that little-discussed chapter in American history can be read in the award-winning “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson.
All the volumes of the Green Book have been digitized here.
(Hat tip to Terry Reid; image of the Negro Motorist Green Book cover from 1949)