It’s no secret that the automobile changed the world. What was it like to travel before cars and trucks were around? People relied on boats and trains to go long distances. With automobiles came new freedom to travel where and when they wanted.
As more people started buying cars in the early 20th Century, road trips became more popular. However, as is often the case, that new freedom wasn’t equal. It quickly became clear that travel was less convenient—and often dangerous—for Americans of color.
Due to Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation, people of color had to be very careful about where they stopped on long road trips. The danger was especially real for Black Americans. They often bore the brunt of racist violence.
In America, segregation is often remembered as a southern problem. In reality, though, it wasn’t limited to the South. Throughout the U.S.A., Black Americans were turned away from hotels, restaurants, and other public places. Even scarier was the rise of sundown towns. These were places where people of color were told to leave before dark or face life-threatening violence.
That’s where the topic of today’s Wonder of the Day came in. The Negro Traveler’s Green Book, called the Green Book for short, was a travel guide. It listed businesses that welcomed Black Americans. People used the book to find hotels, restaurants, and other places to stop along their route.
How did the Green Book come about? It started with a man named Victor Hugo Green. He was a postal worker who lived in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Green knew about the troubles people of color faced. He wanted to do something to change it. Inspired by similar books that helped Jewish travelers, he wrote the first Green Book in 1936.
Green started with an area he knew—New York City. He drew on his own experience and took input from fellow Black postal workers. Using this, he built a list of businesses that welcomed people of color. The first Green Book was a hit. Soon, people from other places were asking to help.
The scope of the Green Book grew quickly. By 1949, it covered not only the continental U.S.A. but also Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada. Travelers of color found it very useful in planning safe and successful trips.
Victor Green didn’t stop there. He also started a travel agency. Called the Vacation Reservation Service, it scheduled activities for travelers at Black-owned businesses. This service helped travelers of color, and it also promoted Black entrepreneurs and their businesses.
The Green Book was very successful. However, Victor Green looked forward to a day when it wouldn’t be needed. Sadly, that day didn’t come in his lifetime. Green passed away in 1960. The Green Book continued under the guidance of his wife, Alma. A few years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation everywhere in the United States. This was a big step toward racial equality. Soon after, the last edition of the Green Book was printed in 1966.
Segregation may be illegal today, but people are still working hard to combat racism everywhere. How can you help? Do your best to make all people feel welcome in public places. If you see someone being treated unfairly, tell a trusted adult. It’s important for everyone to do their part in building a more equal world!
Read more at Wodnerpolis.org