As the rise of the middle class, the growth of the automobile industry, and the construction of interstate highways made the road trip the most popular form of travel among American families, the Green Book became an essential guide for Black motorists during the Jim Crow era. Victor H. Green, a Black U.S. postal worker who sought to make leisure travel accessible to African Americans, created the original Green Book in 1936. The first guide focused on Green’s hometown of New York City and listed businesses, hotels, and other attractions that welcomed Black visitors. The guide’s popularity grew immediately. By 1962, it reached over two million readers, listed Black-owned or welcoming establishments in all 48 continental U.S. states, and even included international locations.
This excerpt from the Green Book’s 1946 edition profiles sixteen cities in Missouri, listing everything from hotels, to restaurants, to liquor stores and taxicabs for the safety and enjoyment of Black travelers. Many towns and cities, such as Cape Girardeau, Lebanon, Kansas City, and Springfield, also include “Tourist Homes,” or the private residences of families in infamously violent and intolerant areas. “Tourist Homes” became an essential part of the Green Book, as households in small towns and along less-traveled roads–particularly before the creation of interstate highways–opened their doors in the absence of Black-welcoming hotels.
Victor Green always intended for his Green Book to go out of print when integration had been achieved. Unfortunately, he did not get to see his goal as he passed away in 1960. The final edition of the Green Book was published in 1966, two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As integration made more places accessible to Black consumers, many of the African American-owned businesses promoted in the Green Book–particularly those owned by women–went out of business. Despite ending legal segregation, the Civil Rights Act did not cease systemic racism in the United States. The discrimination that the Green Book navigated continues to exist in equally harmful ways today.