For Black Americans, the early 20th century United States was a time dominated by segregation and Jim Crow laws restricting their movement and access to services. As transportation by car became popular, Black motorists faced new travel challenges. They needed to know where they would be permitted to buy gas or food or stay the night without worry.
To help the Black motorist, a Harlem-based postal carrier named Victor Hugo Green created a travel guide in 1936 “to compile facts and information connected with motoring, which the Negro Motorist can use and depend on.” His guide stood out from several others. It was for sale in Esso stations, which welcomed Black travelers, and provided opportunities for Black-owned franchises. Green offered his advice in a general tone of helpfulness and even humor, avoiding overt accusations of racism.
Growing out of New York as its popularity spread, people from all over the country wrote Green to add hotels, restaurants, bars, and other locations that were Black-owned or served Black people, eventually including Canada and parts of the Caribbean.
The Green Book listed home owners who were willing to rent rooms to travelers. In Kokomo, which made its first appearance in 1939, there were four such home owners: Mrs. C.W. Winburn, Mrs. Chas. Hardinson, Mrs. A. Woods, and Mrs. S.O. Hughes.
Victor Green, who died in 1960, wrote introductions in many editions of The Green Book, and in 1948 he speculated about the last edition:
"There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment."
In 1964, the Civil Rights act was passed and Green’s widow ceased publication of The Green Book two years later.
The Green Book at the New York Public Library.
Article from the Indianapolis Star about the Green Book.
Read about a Smithsonian Institute traveling exhibit regarding the Green Book.