For those too young, or have forgotten what segregation was like in this county… A look back at the future under the Chumph
The year is 1940. You are in a ’37 Buick, driving west on the Dixie Overland Highway. You plan to take it all the way to California, but as things stand, you might not even make it to the Texas border. For you are black, and you are deep in Alabama, and night is coming.
This is the land of strange fruit: Elizabeth Lawrence, an elderly black woman who’d chastised white children for throwing rocks at her, lynched in 1933; Otis Parham, 16, set upon by a mob that couldn’t find the perpetrator of an alleged attack on a white man in 1934. They killed Parham instead and threw his body into a ditch. You don’t have to know the names of Alabama’s recently murdered to feel the presence of their ghosts in the roadside thickets of longleaf pine.
With the day’s light faltering, you pull over and retrieve The Negro Motorist Green Book from your Roadmaster’s glove box. It is 48 pages of practical scripture, offering safe passage through the United States—where you can sleep, eat and fill your gas tank. The 1940 edition of the Green Book offered several options for safe harbor in central Alabama from the Ku Klux Klan, not to mention less deadly manifestations of hatred. Some of these are hotels that will allow black guests, like the Fraternal in Birmingham. Others are private homes, such as that of Mrs. G.W. Baugh, at 2526 12th Street in Tuscaloosa (private homes are almost always listed under the name of a female host). The Green Book also lists a few restaurants, clubs, garages and beauty salons. In Augusta, Georgia, you are welcome at Bollinger’s liquor store—but nowhere else.
The number of listings will grow, especially after a brief hiatus in publication during World War II, as more and more people write in with suggestions, crowdsourcing a compendium of black-friendly sites across the nation. In 1957, North Dakota would be the last state in the continental United States covered by the Green Book. In 1964, Hawaii became the 50th state in the guide, which that year also featured entries for Europe, Africa and Latin America.
Thus what began in 1936 as a barebones aggregation of New York–area advertisements would eventually create what the historian Jennifer Reut calls an “invisible map” of America. The guide’s creator, Victor Hugo Green, had recognized that such a map was necessary. But he also hoped that his work would eventually be obviated by social progress. Later editions of the Green Book contained an introduction with this optimistic passage:
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…
The Green Book created what Taylor calls an “overground railroad,” used by the progeny of those who may have relied on that other, more famous railroad offering passage out of slavery. The Underground Railroad promised freedom; the Green Book promised something just as fundamentally American: leisure.
Taylor has spent the last several years photographing Green Book locations for her website while planning a much larger project she hopes will grant the Green Book the cultural prominence it deserves. Her task is made difficult by the fact that each edition of the Green Book was often significantly different from those before and after, depending on the shifting landscape of prejudice in each state. An out-of-date listing—a motel that welcomed blacks suddenly shuttering—could spell doom for a traveler stranded in the thick of Mississippi.
Taylor went through all 22 editions of the guide to create a list of 4,964 sites—and she’s gone through only about half of the nation. She believes that perhaps 25 percent remain standing in some form, like the IHOP in Harlem, while only about 5 percent operate as they did in Victor Green’s time. A few are obvious and easy to find, like Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, which recently reopened after a $10 million renovation, once more serving all those who reach the western terminus of Route 66, though it’s pay-as-you-wish policy hasn’t survived into the 21st century. But some are even more invisible than they were on Green’s “invisible map,” retreating into historical obscurity. There is Murray’s Dude Ranch, in the high desert of Southern California, notable for catering to an African-American clientele. Black cowboy films like Harlem on the Prairie were filmed there . Today, it is just an expanse of sagebrush.
Other Green Book stops live on in shabby anonymity. The Hayes Motel, in the historically African-American section of South Central Los Angeles, opened in 1947, 18 years before an incident of police brutality led nearby Watts to erupt in fiery frustration against the city’s reactionary leaders. The 1992 riots, in response to the acquittal of the four police officers who’d beaten motorist Rodney King, began a few blocks away. Somehow, the Hayes Motel remained in operation, but the turbulent times took their toll. When Taylor visited with a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a telling sign greeted potential guests: “No drugs. No Prostitution. No Loitering. No Trespassing.”
Taylor—who is writing a book on the Green Book, is in talks with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and is creating an interactive map with partners that may include Harvard, the New York Public Library and Google—isn’t waiting for someone to invest $10 million in the Hayes Motel. But she believes it has a story worth commemorating, as do all its fellow Green Book survivors. She hopes to reclaim a forgotten chapter of African-American history, partly because it is our history and does not deserve oblivion any more than Millard Fillmore’s log cabin, but also because there were things we should have learned then but did not.
“This is a cautionary tale,” she says. “This is still with us.”…Read The Rest of this Article Here…