The Negro Motorists Green Book

Today marks the fourth day of Black History Month for 2019. As has been my custom I try to write about some aspect of the Black experience in America. Here’s my current offering. I hope you both enjoy it and learn a little of our nation’s history. 

My father’s family was from South Carolina and during the 1950s I would occasionally spend a summer with them. Because of that, I became aware of Jim Crow or segregation laws. I never tried to understand these things and as a kid just accepted them as being, “the way things were.”

As an adult, I began to learn and question the truth and subsequently became a sometime student of Southern and Black History. This eventually led to an interest in blues music history and from this, I became aware of the Chitlin Circuit, a loose association of entertainment venues that catered to  Black performers. Traveling the circuit meant Black entertainers needed services. They needed fuel and car maintenance, food, shelter, medical care and so much more that wasn’t easily found in a segregated America.

What was true for the Black entertainer was also true for all Blacks who took to the highways of America. The world outside your neighborhood could be a hostile and dangerous place if you weren’t armed with a lot of information. One place to get that information was something a traveling Black person didn’t leave home without, The Negro Motorists Green Book.

Cover of the 1940 edition.

The Green Book began in 1936 and lasted until 1966 when the passage of several civil rights laws made it less necessary. In my studies, I had learned of it years ago but it got lost in my memory. Recently, however, CBS Sunday Morning did a piece about it and I thought it should be shared. American’s need to know what this nation was once like and what so many of us fear it may again become as the right-wing is granted more permissions by the current occupant of the White House.

NOTE: The hotel featured at the top of this article is the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, MS. Beginning in 1944 it became a stop on the Chitlin Circuit for Black entertainers performing in that area. About any Black musician, you can think of spent a night or more at the Riverside. Before becoming a hotel it was a “Negro” hospital and is where the great female singer, Bessie Smith, died from injuries received in a car wreck outside Clarksdale in 1937. Today the Riverside stays booked by blues lovers from all over the world. They flock to Clarksdale in search of how it all began.

 

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