You Should Know

Traveling Through Jim Crow America

"Photographic Print Of Man And Woman Embracing Through An Open Car Window," © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

During the segregation era, discriminatory laws and practices made traveling by car a difficult and even dangerous experience for African Americans. Along the nation’s highways, black travelers were routinely denied access to basic services like gas, food, restrooms, and lodging. Stopping in an unfamiliar place carried the risk of humiliation, threats, or worse. To find safe and friendly accommodations, travelers relied on a network of shared advice, exchanged by word of mouth and also published in travel guides such as the "Green Book."

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1941, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Negro Motorist Green Book, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1941, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Negro Motorist Green Book, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guidebook for African American travelers. #APeoplesJourney

"The Negro Motorist Green Book," pictured above from our collection, was a guidebook for African American travelers that provided a list of hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations, and other establishments throughout the country that served African American patrons. The information included in the Green Book helped increase their safety and treatment. During the Jim Crow era, laws enforced segregation in the South between 1877, the post-Reconstruction era, and up through the 1950s at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. The term "Jim Crow" derives from a minstrel show character and came to mark almost a century of legal segregation and discrimination against African Americans.

 

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guidebook for African American travelers that provided a list of hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations and other establishments throughout the country that served African Americans patrons.

Published from 1936 to 1966, the Negro Motorist Green Book listed motels, restaurants, service stations, and other accommodations that served African Americans. Victor H. Green, a New Jersey postal worker, created his namesake guide to help black travelers safely navigate the segregated realities of Jim Crow America. Green used his contacts in the postal service, as well as input from traveling salesmen and business owners, to complete the listings. He also partnered with the Standard Oil Company to distribute The Green Book at Esso gas stations.

Photographic print of two women standing in front of a car, with two men behind
Photographic print of two women standing in front of a car, with two men behind," Gift of Princetta R. Newman, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Travel back in time and take a cross-country trip with help from the Green Book on our 2nd floor "Explore More!" interactive!