Pre-Twitter Racist Rant

Race-baiting before social media? Here’s an excerpt from “Don’t Be a Sucker” – a short film which warns of the dangers of promoting racism in America. It was produced by the United States Department of War and released in 1943 (and adapted as a slightly shorter version in 1947.)

This dramatized film uses the experience of a Hungarian American to warn against the dangers of persecuting minorities. Reacting to a hate-filled political speech in an American city, he recalls how similar speeches led to Nazi persecution of minority groups and the eventual destruction of German society. The film was also made to make the case for the desegregation of the United States armed forces. It is held for preservation by the U.S. National Archives. Full 23 min version here.

Driving While Black in Mid Century America

Green Book 1948

Between 1936 and 1966, the “Negro Travelers’ Green Book” (or the “Green Book” as it was commonly known) was an essential travel guide for Black Americans. It was created by Victor H. Green, an enterprising New York mailman and Black-American travel agent. Organized by state and city, it listed business who would accept black clientele – hotels, restaurants, filling stations, tailors, beauty parlors. It also included travel themed articles featured black-friendly resorts and sites. For more see my post Segregated America’s TripAdvisor.

Enter the world of the Black traveler in post-war America who faced humiliation, insults and fear of being stranded without travel essentials.

The New York Public Library’s Digital Collections recently launched Navigating The Green Book, a public domain remix by Brian Foo of NYPL Labs. The mapping tool give the user insights into the world of the Black traveler in post-war America who faced humiliation, insults and fear of being stranded without travel essentials. Racist social codes made “driving while black” a hazard in some locales. As the Green Book noted its the cover, “Carry Your Green Book With You – You May Need It.”

Users can enter in two US addresses and determine what Green Book recommended services they’d find along the route (two data sets are currently indexed – 1947 and 1956.) Here’s a 1956 trip from Seattle to Salt Lake City. Only three restaurants and one hotel.

Seattle to Salt Lake City

Users can also use a cluster or heat maps to visualize the the geotagged data. Here’s a “heat map” of US in 1956. Yellow / red colors indicate more Black-friendly services.

US Heat map 1956

Finally at the listing level, the user can click into any of locations and get specific metadata including a link to a digitized version of the Green Book page for the service. (1956 Green Book)

NYC to Atlanta with listing

Segregated America’s TripAdvisor

hotel clark

“Carry your GREEN BOOK with you – You may need it.”

We’re accustomed to doing our own travel planning with TripAdvisor, Yelp and other web-based guides. But imagine you’re a Black family driving to a reunion across mid-20th century America. You faced humiliation, insults and fear of being stranded without travel essentials. Racist social codes made “driving while black” a hazard in some locales. Fortunately you could turn to the “bible of black travel during Jim Crow” – the “Negro Travelers’ Green Book.” 

Green-Book

The “Green Book” as it was commonly known, was created by Victor H. Green, an enterprising New York mailman and Black-American travel agent. First launched in 1936 as a New York-focused edition, Green eventually expanded coverage to all of North America and the Caribbean. The book was essential to American Black middle class families as well as salesmen, entertainers and athletes who traveled for business. Organized by state and city, it listed business who would accept black clientele – hotels, restaurants, filling stations, tailors, beauty parlors. It also included travel themed articles featured black-friendly resorts and sites. Green gathered information by offering his readers a dollar reward for supplying information “on the Negro motoring conditions, scenic wonders in your travels, places visited of interest and short stories on one’s motoring experience.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 12.26.28 PM

While northeastern urban areas had many listings, some states were clearly not hospitable to the black traveler. The 1949 edition (pdf) had only a few listings in Portland for the entire state of Oregon.

As Green noted in the intro to the 1949 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 in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend the publication for then we can travel wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes will shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.

With the exception of the WWII era, Green published the book until 1966. He ceased publication following the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

Link to 1956 edition. Click image below to view interactive map of the 1956 listings.

Green book interactive map
Note: This video opens at the 1:02 mark, skipping over graphic images of lynchings.

Image credit: Library of Congress
Memphis, Tennessee. October 1939.
Marion Post Wolcott, photographer.
“Secondhand clothing stores and pawn shop on Beale Street.”
[Sign: “Hotel Clark, The Best Service for Colored Only.”]
Location: E-2185
Reproduction Number: LC-USF33-30637-M3

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