Unpacking the harsh history of the iconic Green Book travel guide in USA
Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended legal segregation in USA, a Harlem postal worker named Victor Hugo Green paved the safest paths for black Americans in the Jim Crow era.
African Americans knew where they would be welcome through an iconic publication aptly named The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for New York City that listed businesses and private homes that would reliably serve African Americans which was first published in 1936.
The Green Book was created by Victor H. Green, a postal service worker from Harlem, N.Y., who began publishing the guide to help African Americans avoid, as he put it, "embarrassing moments" after motorists started exploring long-distance roadways including Route 66, the nation's first transcontinental highway.
Today, Green's rare paperbacks are more than just evidence of the hazards of travel faced by African Americans in Los Angeles before the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
In an age of social media and 21st century racial justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Green Book stands as a reminder of a little-known African American history of the American road trip.
Curated by Samantha De Tillio the exhibition Unpacking the Green Book: Travel and Segregation in Jim Crow America explores the history of The Green Book in an interactive project space through materials such as a library and reading area devoted to the topics of segregation, automobility, travel, and leisure, specifically as they relate to the black American experience in the midcentury; digitized copies of The Green Book; interactive maps that explore travel destinations included in it; and multiple film excerpts from upcoming documentary projects.
It will also include two banners by Cauleen Smith, featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design, and two sculptures exploring locations in Harlem and D.C. from William D. Williams’s 2012 Dresser Truck Project.
Unpacking the Green Book, Travel and Segregation in Jim Crow America is on through April 8 at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York.