“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.” Negro Motorist Green Book, 1948
In the years following the end of World War II, middle-class Americans began buying cars and were able to take road trips like never before. Many people of African descent did not have the opportunity to travel freely, as Jim Crow laws were in place until the 1960’s and many “sundown towns” threatened violence after dark. First printed in 1936, the Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual publication created specifically for African Americans traveling the country. The books were divided by states and towns, and provided lists of safe hotels, tourist homes, restaurants, stores, barber shops, and other services that were friendly to black travellers.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was developed by Victor Hugo Green (1892-1960), a postal carrier from Harlem, New York. Green’s wife had family in Virginia, and the couple’s experiences “traveling while black,” according to filmmaker Yuroba Richen (The Green Book: Guide to Freedom), reinforced the need for such a guide. In its first year, the Green Book only focused on areas of New York City; the following year, it expanded and would eventually include every state and several international destinations. Green would create his lists with information from other black postal carriers and from his readers. He encouraged others to send in the names and addresses of places of safety, hospitality, and service. The book’s publication ended in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act was passed Congress, prohibiting racially based discrimination in public accomodations, schools, employment, and public services.
Many Green Book locations in Lynchburg no longer exist, nor do known photographs exist of them. This includes the Douglas Hotel on Route 29, the home of Mrs. M. Thomas at 919 Polk Street, the Petersburg Hotel at 66 Ninth Street, and many black-owned businesses on Fifth Street, including Selma’s Hair Salon at 1002 Fifth Street, King’s Tavern at Fifth and Monroe Streets and the service station at 1016 Fifth Street.
View a complete digitized collection of the Negro Motorist Green Books