Black History Month: What was the real GREEN BOOK all about?

Green Book
The Negro Motorist Green Book made strange cities familiar to Black travelers by highlighting safe spaces during the segregation era.

Sometimes my memory is terrible. I forget how old I am. I forget where I put my keys. I forget the name of my favorite podcast series. Sadly, I often forget that Black history often has a way of being hijacked, simplified and sanitized for mass consumption. Sort of like the way Panda Express does “Chinese” food.

Case in point, I’ll likely wait 29 years to see the Academy Award Winning Best Picture Green Book just as I waited 29 years to see Driving Miss Daisy. And once I watch it, I’ll likely hate myself for having wasted my precious CP time viewing it. Do I love Mahershala Ali? Yes. And do I have a profound sense of wonder and awe for the musical genius and legacy of Dr. Don Shirley? Of course. I just really have a hard time watching a Black story explained through the lens of someone who has never been and never will be Black. Those kinds of tales always lack nuance. Plus, I doubt I’m the target audience.

All of that to say, that I won’t watch the movie Green Book because I know what the actual  Negro Motorist Green Book meant in Black history and I don’t want to be annoyed by what the movie misses.

But let’s talk about the real Green Book. Yes, it existed. Yes, it was actually green. Yes it was named for the author Victor Hugo Green, a postal worker who published the first edition in 1936.  As an article at points out:

 At the time, the segregation-era guide was meant to direct Black New York City residents to businesses they could frequent without facing the overt discrimination and threats of violence they encountered even up north. Demand soon grew for a more geographically expansive document, and the following year Green compiled and distributed the first national issue

Oh and FYI, the overt discrimination and threats of violence in jurisdictions around the nation has not gone away. As Andrew Ti, host of the Yo! Is This Racist? podcast pointed out in an episode, there are still some places in the United States he simply won’t stop at while driving for fear of racially-motivated violence—and he’s an Asian guy from the Midwest. (If you’d also like to avoid those places, you may refer to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map.)

The Green Book wasn’t just a tool for safety; it was a handy guide for Black economic empowerment. It did then what the following websites do today—promote Black-owned businesses:

Official Black Wall Street

Black Business List

Support Black Owned

USBC Directory

National Black Guide

We Buy Black

Think about it. A single book with a comprehensive listing of all Black-owned businesses across the country. We’re talking everything from restaurants to barbershops to hotels to gas stations. Updated regularly over the course of 31 years. That’s pretty friggin’ awesome.

The last edition was published following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made racial discrimination illegal in public accommodations. There was no longer a need for it because racism and prejudice came to a standstill just like when Barack Obama became POTUS.

Oh look…I forgot that it’s my bedtime and I need to stop writing this post.



2 thoughts on “Black History Month: What was the real GREEN BOOK all about?

    1. I’m guessing that his family would have known him best as families typically do. It would be nice to get some perspective from his various music teachers and partners if any of them are still alive. He started playing piano at age 2 and went professional at age 9.

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