From the Washington Post:
The forgotten way African Americans stayed safe in a racist America
By Ana Swanson
For African American travelers, much of the U.S. could be a hateful and dangerous place, even into the 1960’s.
Jim Crow laws across the South mandated that restaurants, hotels, pool halls and parks strictly separate whites and blacks. Lynchings kept blacks in fear of mob violence. And there were thousands of so-called “sundown towns,” including in northern states like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, which barred blacks after dark, an unofficial rule reinforced by the threat of violence.
So in 1936, a postal worker named Victor Green began publishing a guide to help African American travelers find friendly restaurants, auto shops and accommodations in far-off places. Green dubbed the guide after himself – the “Green Book” – and published it for decades. Green says he was inspired by the Jewish press, which had long published information on restricted places.
The Green Book included listings for hotels, restaurants, gas stations, bars and beauty salons across the U.S., as well as travel articles, paid advertisements, and stories about local attractions. The guide first focused on New York, but was gradually expanded to cover the whole U.S. The first edition said on its cover, “Let’s all get together and make motoring better,” while the 1949 edition featured a quote from Mark Twain – “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”
While poverty and discrimination kept many African Americans from owning cars, a new black middle class rose up in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, and many of them were eager to escape poor treatment on public transportation.
Yet car ownership came with its own challenges. Many African Americans would pack meals, blankets and gasoline in their cars on trips in case they ended up somewhere where they wouldn’t be served or didn’t want to ask.