“Travel is fatal to prejudice”

ECHO underway, posted Monday, February 28, 2011

“Travel is fatal to prejudice”:  Mark Twain’s words appear on the cover of the 1949 Green Book, compiled and published from 1936 to 1964 by New York City letter carrier and civic leader Victor H. Green. Officially titled The Negro Motorist Green Book, this travel guide listed commercial establishments that catered to and accepted African American motorists: not only hotels and restaurants, but also barber and beauty shops, night clubs, and “tourist homes”— private homes that rented rooms.

Americans embraced the automobile at its invention, celebrating in it the freedom of the “open road.” This proverbial road may have been open to everyone, but the services alongside it could be, and were, restricted — in the South by Jim Crow laws; in the North, by race prejudice. African American families often carried with them extra gasoline, food, and other necessities when traveling long distances, knowing that such services might be withheld from them and unwilling to risk the difficulty and indignity in asking.

The guide was so popular that Green expanded its coverage to the continental United States and, after World War II, created a travel agency that catered to African Americans and included Canada and Mexico. The Green Book served also as a marketing tool, featuring black-owned businesses but also encouraging whites to advertise. Esso (Standard Oil) advertised in the guide, having been one of the few companies to offer gasoline station franchises to African Americans. The guide ceased publication in 1964, the same year in which the Civil Rights Act was passed.

The 1949 edition of the Green Book devotes a scant page to Connecticut, listing hotels, restaurants, and services in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Stamford, Waterbury, and West Haven. More research in the few editions that exist is required to make sense of these listings, but a preliminary investigation reveals that the “Mrs. C. Raone” listed in the guide is a typographical error. According to the 1930 Federal Census, Caroline Raine and her husband James, both African Americans born in the South, ran a boarding house at 68 Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. There, they cared for African American lodgers who were chauffeurs, laborers, cooks, and waiters, and were, with one exception, born in the South. Further research would reveal whether this home was razed in the Dixwell Avenue Project, begun in 1956 by the New Haven Redevelopment Authority.

The book, in the Collections of Henry Ford Museum, is viewable here.

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