“The Green Book” was African Americans’ answer to the AAA Travel Guide during the decades of Jim Crow Laws, which made travel throughout the United States a risky business if your skin was black.
What makes this the perfect read for all of us is that during this pandemic, regardless of our ethnicity, travel is again a risky business.
This book is an engaging educational delight. Taylor does not have to drag the reader into this eye-opening story. Her introduction heading says it all: “Are We There Yet?”
The Green Book
Many of us take for granted the ease with which we can travel from one state to another by car, stopping for gas, using the restroom or finding that welcome diner for another cup of coffee and a bite to eat. And when traveling wears us out? No problem, we can easily pull into the nearest motel.
But until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation laws made automobile travel sometimes deathly dangerous for Black Americans.
“The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” was first published in Harlem in 1936. Its last edition was printed for 1966-’67.
“The Green Book” advised Back travelers where they would be welcomed: hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations.
In the early years of two-lane highways with few travel amenities between cities, the Black traveler often had to bring along a canister of gas, blankets, food and toilet items, knowing there would be no place for them to stop along the way.
Taylor’s story of “The Green Book” and the experiences of more than 30 years of travel for Black Americans is a treasure trove of photographs, maps, receipts, brochures and enough ephemera to keep any reader on the edge of the seat, page after page. The men and women who published that travel guide and the travelers who would not leave home without it were courageous Americans.
In June 1962, a college classmate and I drove my 1956 VW Bug cross country to the East Coast, down to Florida, along the South, returning to California a month later.
What I remember most was the early Louisiana evening when we arrived at the motel marked in my AAA Travel Guide. Nowhere in that guide did it prepare me for the neon words below the vacancy sign: WHITES ONLY.
Are we there yet?
Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’
Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.