The Green Book Guide to Freedom

Green Book was named best film at the Oscar 2019 ceremony on Sunday night. The film which won several awards has shone a spotlight on a piece of civil rights era history that hasn’t been widely discussed. However, the film has also been criticized for being historically inaccurate, as well as for forwarding a white savior narrative. The Green Book was a travel guide that allowed black motorists to avoid racial discrimination as they traveled across the US.

 

 

A documentary on the Green Book will be screened on the Smithsonian channel starting Monday Feb. 25th. Linda Goldman, an executive producer with the Smithsonian Channel, says The Green Book Guide to Freedom will delve into the history of the travel guide that played such an important role in the lives of African Americans.

“It helped African Americans navigate a segregated America, not just the south, but across the entire country. It was first published in 1936 by a postal worker from Harlem named Victor Green. He’d been born and raised in Harlem but his wife was from Richmond, Virginia. When they would travel home to visit her family they would suffer indignities and problems on the road. He came up with this idea, actually, he got it from a friend of his who had a similar guide for Jewish people.”

The Green Book was published in the midst of the great depression, and continued to publish over the course of three decades. At the time of the book’s publishing, things were incredibly dangerous for African Americans across the entire country. In the south, it was made clear where African American people were welcome and where they were not, but in the Midwest and north, it was a much more subtle thing. The guide was a listing of places that African Americans could eat, sleep, fill up on gas, as well as good spots for recreation and enjoyment.

Charleszine “Terry” Nelson, the Senior Special Collection and Community Resource Manager at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver, says that the Library has a 4th edition copy of The Green Book which lists locations in Colorado Springs, La Junta, Pueblo, Greeley and Denver. These included restaurants, hotels, taxi services and boarding houses. Terry Nelson says she would like to see recognition of these historic locations.

“To have a commemorative piece land-marked on those houses so they won’t be destroyed, so they’ll understand the role these locations played in the growth of the city and county of Denver and the state of Colorado. Few people have any knowledge of the difficulties that African Americans had to travel through the United States, and this was a book that gave them safety. There were places they knew that they could eat, they could sleep, and they would be safe. And that’s the significant part of the civil rights that should be pointed out.”

The Green Book Guide to Freedom will air on the Smithsonian channel starting on February 25th. More information can be found on the Smithsonian channel website.