For much of the twentieth century, African-Americans were on the move. Beginning as early as the 1890s, Jim Crow-era discrimination and racism led them to seek out new opportunities. They found them in northern cities like New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit, where industries founded during and after the two World Wars were thriving. Fueling this movement was improved access to automobiles, which freed African-Americans from travel restrictions and the discriminatory policies of buses and trains.
However, there was no guarantee that a northern city would prove hospitable to a stranger, nor might there be safe places along the way to stop. The need for a travel guide catering specifically to African-Americans was identified as early as 1930. The guides borrowed their format from business directories published in cities around the country beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. The goal was that the guides be easy to use for those in unfamiliar territory.
Travel guides coordinated with other efforts within the African-American community. One such effort was the founding of the National Negro Business League by Booker T. Washington in 1901. Washington wanted to attack the problem of racial discrimination through economic development. The NNBL would help African-Americans by creating a network of affiliated interests open to any African-American in good standing within their community.
The NNBL grew quickly, eventually reaching a height of 320 chapters across the country. Associated networks included the National Negro Bankers Association, the National Negro Press Association, the National Association of Negro Funeral Directors, the National Negro Bar Association, the National Association of Negro Insurance Men, the National Negro Retail Merchants' Association, the National Association of Negro Real Estate Dealers, and the National Negro Finance Corporation.
Organizations like the NNBL kept their own lists, making it easier to compile listings of travel-oriented businesses friendly to African-American tourists across the country. At the same time, there were challenges to gathering such information. African-American businesses often changed locations and owners. Travel-oriented business, especially tourist homes, could be particularly difficult to keep track of. And, in a pre-computer era, keeping records of who was where was both daunting and challenging. Errors happened with a high level of frequency.
On their surface, travel guides enabled African-Americans to move safely through the landscape while on vacation. But these guides also served several other purposes. Many business directories encouraged African-Americans to support local businesses or not to shop where they could not work. Scholar Cotton Seillor describes the purposes of the guidebooks as "communal racial uplift," quoting Claude A. Barrett, founder of the Association of the Negro Press, as saying "that African-Americans should only buy from their own firms, or at least…companies that hired black employees." Travel guides also allowed African-Americans to escape from Jim Crow-era violence permanently and to move their families safely through the landscape. And, they record African-American businesses, particularly those owned by women, for the present day. As such, these guides were about far more than just a vacation.
THE HACKLEY AND HARRISON'S HOTEL AND APARTMENT GUIDE, 1930-31
The Hackley and Harrison's Hotel and Apartment Guide for Colored Travelers was founded and published by Sarah D. (Sadie) Harrison and her partner, Edwin Henry Hackley, a lawyer and journalist. Harrison, a member of the Negro Welfare Council of New London, was one of the first to identify the need for a travel guide and, as part of her job, began compiling listings. The guide tells of how Harrison, while writing the guide, had received a letter from W.E.B. DuBois asking if she knew of safe accommodations in New London. As Harrison wrote: "Mr. DuBois was writing unknowingly to the originator of the Guide Idea. His query aptly illustrates the practicality and universal need of the public service hereby supplied. NOW THE GUIDE tells you WHO and WHERE. You have only to write for reservations."
Harrison compiled the information with the help of correspondents in over 300 cities, to whom she was connected through the Negro Welfare Council network. The Hackley and Harrison guide set the tone for subsequent guides in that it listed specific places that would accommodate a traveler unfamiliar with the city. While it covered the entire United States, few listings are hotels or commercial establishments. Most listings are rooms, reflecting the reality of accommodations for African-American travelers. Finding a private room in an unfamiliar city would have been extremely challenging. The Hackley and Harrison guide, therefore, provided a very important service.
With Hackley as publisher, and likely funder as well (his name came first in the title), the 48-page guide was first printed in 1930 in Philadelphia. While it must have been well received, some were more skeptical. The Crisis, in September 1930, commented that "This pamphlet is an attempt to fill a long felt want. There are, naturally, numbers of omissions." Harrison's task, done entirely through correspondence to a contact in each city, was herculean. Yet, despite these assets, the Hackley and Harrison guide was short lived. Hackley died that same year and Harrsion, unable to keep going on her own, published only one followup, under the title The Traveler's Guide, the following year. Others would have to take up where Harrison left off.
THE NEGRO MOTORIST GREEN BOOK, 1937-1967
When Victor Green began publishing The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1937, segregation had been a fact of life of almost 40 years. Green was a 44-year old mail carrier in New York City, and thus was perfectly positioned to know where African-Americans could go and where they couldn't. The first year's guide covered New York City and listed gas stations and hotels, as well as tourist homes, in the New York City vicinity. Green compiled these listings from his own experience and from those of his fellow mail carriers.
The Green Book rapidly took off. By 1938, Green had expanded his listings beyond New York City to include cities and towns in 21 states and Washington, DC. There were also listings for summer resorts at the end of the guide. The Green Book was sold in African-American churches and through the Negro Urban League, but the support given it by the Esso (Standard Oil) Corporation was particularly key. Esso gas stations, one of the few that served African-Americans, carried The Green Book at their stations as early as 1940. The 1949 edition even included an endorsement from Esso.
Within 10 years, the directory had expanded to include 46 states and had reached a circulation of 20,000. The published guide was quite small, about 6" by 4", and easily fit into the car's glove box. Over time, as the guide expanded, readers joined postal carriers in submitting listings, making it one of the first African-American travel guides to incorporate user-generated content. Although the actual pages were modest and the listings spartan, inclusion in The Green Book was considered an honor.
Green was an idealistic and hopeful man. He wrote in the 1948 volume: "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 and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment." Green retired in 1952 to publish The Green Book full time. While he lived comfortably, he never made millions, preferring to keep The Green Book's prices low. Originally 25 cents, the guide's purchase cost reached a maximum of only $1.00 throughout its run. The final editions contained about 100 pages of listings that covered the entire United States and abroad.
The Green Book's demise is often attributed to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which rendered its fundamental concept obsolete. In fact, Victor Green had died in 1960, leaving the guide without its driving visionary. But, the increase in Civil Rights activities during the early 1960s raised question as to whether publications like The Green Book undermined the push for full equality. Sales began to erode after the 1960s and The Green Book came to a dignified end in 1967 (ironically the only issue without a green cover). A key era in African-American travel history came to a close.
US TRAVEL BUREAU DIRECTORY OF NEGRO HOTELS AND GUEST HOUSES, 1939-41
In 1937, Walter White, then secretary of the NAACP, wrote to Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, to suggest that the Federal government publish a travel guide for African-Americans. Two years later, the Department of the Interior obliged, publishing the US Travel Bureau Directory of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses. The guide "was developed with a view to contributing a reliable source of information for Negro travelers through the United States." Publication continued at least until 1941.
While the idea to publish a travel guide was not new, the build up toward World War II renewed the problem's sense of urgency. The US Travel Bureau Directory acknowledged the plight of African-American soldiers and war-related workers as challenging and problematic. At the same time, the US Travel Bureau Directory continued the Works Progress Administration's efforts, begun in 1935, to produce national travel guides. In this context, continuing with the usual plan yet addressing the needs of African-Americans specifically made the US Travel Bureau Directory a somewhat subversive product. It also stands out from other travel guides in that it was typewritten and lacked both advertisements and images.
In total, the directory contained over 250 listings. As the title suggests, the listings were limited to housing exclusively. A range of options were presented, from large hotels to rooms in individual homes. The directory also included a list of the Negro branches of the YMCA and the YWCA, noting that "Where there are no rooms or dormitories, the executive office will gladly recommend acceptable stopping places." The directory lists various local associations and African-American organizations, revealing that a side goal of the directory was to enhance the networking capabilities of African-Americans.
Current scholarship suggests a relationship between the US Travel Bureau Directory and The Green Book. According to Gretchen Sorin, the US Travel Bureau itself was a distributor for The Green Book and may have partnered with Victor Green in other ways. As the directory's listings are fewer in number and overlap those in The Green Book, it is tempting to conclude that the US Travel Bureau ceded the market to The Green Book, ceasing publication in order to turn its attention to the impending war. Further research may bear this out.
AFRO-AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS' TRAVEL GUIDE TO NEGRO HOTELS AND GUEST HOUSES, 1942
World War II had a dramatic effect on the publication of African-American travel guides. Recreational travel was limited during the war, creating an uneven sales market around the country. At the same time, many African-American soldiers and military workers needed to travel beyond their hometowns for the very first time. In some cases, massive military mobilization enabled the publication of new African-American travel guides. In others, the war set limits on what could be done. The Green Book, for example, ceased publication between 1942 and 1946, due to paper rationing.
In 1942, the Baltimore based AFRO-American Newspaper published a map listing hotels and tourist homes throughout the eastern United States. Unfolding in map-like accordion style, the guide consisted of a cover page and advertisements on one side and a map of the US east of the Mississippi River with coordinating listings on the other. The smaller size made it easy to pack and less expensive to print. But this tidy format came at the expense of space for the actual information.
The idea for a guide came from Ida Murphy Smith (1919-1996), who was the daughter of publisher/editor Carl J. Murphy. After earning a degree from the University of Wisconsin in journalism and marketing in 1941, Smith went to work in the advertising department at the AFRO-American in Baltimore. She occasionally wrote about travel, visiting New York City, Atlantic City, and other nearby cities served by the paper along the Eastern seaboard. "Mrs. Ida," as she was fondly known at the AFRO-American, continued working in the Baltimore Advertising office until 1952, when she was promoted to head of the Washington, DC, AFRO-American's advertising office.
With the ability to publish throughout the eastern part of the country, the AFRO-American hired Melvina Jackson (1916-2012) to serve as a Travel Editor and the AFRO-American Travel Bureau Director. Through her, the AFRO-American began to make hotel, motel, airplane and train reservations for the newspaper's customers. As civil rights protests were occurring in the south, the AFRO-American's readers were frequently reminded about maintaining their civil rights when traveling.
The close of World War II saw the development of a new round of African-American travel guides--and a new tone within their pages. The Travelguide, published between 1946 and 1955 by the Travelguide Company, presented a more assertive tone than had previous guides. It was subtitled: "Vacation & Recreation without Humiliation".
The Travelguide was edited by W.H. "Billy" Butler and published in New York City. The cover was accented with bright colors and featured photos of attractive, well-dressed, African-American women posing in scenic spots. Production costs were high, forcing Butler to rely more heavily on ads than had previous guides. Major sponsors included Blatz Brewing of Milwaukee, Schenley Whiskey, Philip Morris, The Pittsburgh Courier, and several African-American radio stations. New York City sponsors included Roy Campanella Wines and Liquors, the Savoy Ballroom, Beulah Bullock's convertible traveling fashions, and Rose Meta's House of Beauty. The guide cost $1.00 and was available in department stores, newsstands, and bookstores.
Another difference from previous travel guides lay in how Butler compiled his listings. In addition to using NAACP connections, Butler reached out to African-American musicians, who were on the road and consequently well aware of the limitations placed on their travel. Kansas-City based musician Andy Kirk (1898-1992), bandleader for Clouds of Joy and a saxophonist in his own right, helped compile listings while on the road. The connection came through Kirk's wife, who worked for the Travelguide company.
The Travelguide promoted the idea that its readers needed to fight discrimination actively. To that end, the guide included the civil rights laws for each state and the addresses of the NAACP headquarters in each city. The guide also included advertisements for the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the United Negro College Fund. Travelguide readers could learn the histories of prominent black citizens through the guide's "Travelguide Salutes!" section. Statesman Ralph Bunche, baseball star Roy Campanella, radio broadcaster Barry Gray, and theater director Margaret Webster were among those profiled. Clearly, the Travelguide assumed its readers led a particularly cosmopolitain lifestyle--one that musicians like Kirk would have epitomized.
GRAYSON'S TRAVEL AND BUSINESS GUIDE, c.1949
Travel guides often had a short life. At present, only one issue of Grayson's Travel and Business Guide, published in 1949 in Los Angeles, has been identified. As a result, little is known about its length of operation and circulation numbers. Priced at $1.00, the 1949 issue alludes to earlier publications, and there may have been later ones as well. The editor of the publication is also unknown, but the image of a well-dressed African-American man accompanying the forward may have been Grayson, himself.
Like the Travelguide, Grayson's took a more assertive approach to civil rights, as well as a more open one. Its subtitle was "A National Directory of Hotels*Cafes*Resorts*Motels* where Civil Rights are Extended to All." In the 1949 issue, Grayson writes that "Many races and religions are listed herein. Chinese, Japanese, Fillipinos (sic), Mexicans and Americans of many national origins. All are fighting for Civil Rights for all mankind. Freedom is Everybody's Job."
There were key differences between Grayson's and other guides. Grayson's charged a $5.00 fee for listing in the guide. And, it presented its information in a different format. Most travel guides organized their information by state and then by city. Grayson's covered over 300 "cities and resorts" in alphabetical order. As a result, Newport, RI, fell on page 79 while Providence, RI, was on page 92. It is difficult to say how this arrangement affected the guide's usability, but guides that weren't useful were less likely to be saved, making them difficult for the modern historian to evaluate and analyze. As other copies of Grayson's Travel and Business Guide come to light, one hopes we can learn more.
GO GUIDE TO PLEASANT MOTORING, 1952-1965
The Go Guide to Pleasant Motoring does not give the impression of being specifically geared to African-Americans. The guide makes no mention of race in its title and advertised businesses with "owners and/or managers who agreed to accept as guests all well-behaved persons regardless of race, creed or color." It also included major hotel chains with non-discrimination policies. And, its full-color covers featured beautiful landscapes with people of unidentifiable race looking on. This more subdued approach differed from the Travelguide and Grayson's more aggressively activist tone.
The Go Guide was published in Washington, DC, by Andrew and Marion Jackson from 1952 to 1965, and possibly longer. About 65 pages long, it contained over 1000 listings for facilities in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean--a scope similar to that of The Green Book. Accommodations could be reserved through the Jacksons' coordinating travel agency. The guide made a point of listing Amoco stations, particularly within the south, which would service African-Americans. While the Go Guide could be purchased for $1.00, Amoco stations distributed free copies, while supplies lasted.
The Go Guide prided itself on the quality of its listings. It explained that the accommodations listed within were carefully screened for cleanliness, wholesomeness, atmosphere, friendliness, and services. Prices were listed in the guide. The guide also included information on places of interest, maps, and pictures. For example, the listings for Georgia included its state nickname, the population of African-Americans in the state, and unique places of interest.
While the Go Guide was an independent publication, the Nationwide Hotel Association used it as its official directory. The NHA was founded in 1953 to "contribute to the success of those engaged in the business or housing, feeding and servicing transient and permanent guests and assisting in the solution of problems affecting the hotel, motel and tourist home industry." Its constituency included hotels with non-discrimination policies. This connection, along with its advertising campaign in Ebony magazine during the 1960s, helped the Go Guide achieve a significant level of longevity. Only The Green Book lasted longer.
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