The Green Book – How to beat racism

It was with deep dismay that I read about the Green Book in this summer’s edition of the Smith Journal.

After the reconstruction that was necessary following the Civil War, in the 1920s, several States and local governments enacted what became known as the Jim Crow laws. These laws provided for segregation of African-Americans from the white population, not unlike apartheid laws in other places around the world.

Under the Jim Crow laws, towns had facilities for white people from which African-Americans were excluded. As you can imagine, there were a number of towns, particularly in the South where no or very poor facilities were available for the black population.

The Jim Crow laws were not repealed until 1965!

The Smith Journal interviewed Calvin Alexander Ramsay who recalled that when his family went for a drive, they would pack a cut lunch, in case no one would serve them at the cafes they stopped at. They packed blankets and pillows in case motel owners turned them away. They also packed an empty coffee can in case they couldn’t find a public toilet they were allowed to use.

Introduce the Green Book.

The Green Book some times called the Negro Motorist Green Book was first published by Victor Green, a postal worker, in 1936. It informed its readers of safe places where people of colour would be welcomed. It covered petrol stations, laundries, cafes and restaurants, motels, barber shops and beauty salons, shoe and clothing shops etc.

Green initially covered the New York area, but once word spread of his project, the national network of postal workers began providing Green with relevant information about their local areas. Soon the Green Book covered each state and some overseas locations.

The Book’s popularity coincided with the growing prosperity of some sections of the African-American population and an increase in car ownership. It became more important, as their increased mobility brought them into frequent contact with prejudice and discrimination.

In its heyday, the Book was 100 pages long and had a print run of 15,000 copies. It was distributed mainly through Esso petrol stations. Victor Green dreamed of a day when the book was no longer necessary. Unlike most writers, his wish was that circulation of his work would decrease rather than increase.

The last edition of the Green Book came out in 1964, four years after Green’s death.