Monday, January 16, 2017

Green Book

Milton Friedman had a lot of respect for liberty. He thought that political freedoms were inextricably related to economic freedom. Put another way, he thought economic freedom could influence political freedom.

"See the USA in your Chevrolet, America is asking you to call." This was the heart of a Chevrolet ad campaign in the late 1900s. The cars were cheap, reliable, ran on cheap gas and the Eisenhower administration had financed huge, wide roads that connected the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Americans were on the move.

But there was an exception. Black people. Blacks of any economic status worried abut Jim Crow laws that legally enforced racial segregation in certain states. A Black driver or family could get caught in some place where no hotels or restaurants or repair shops were available to them. So they did not travel much, or they made wild efforts to avoid stopping in suspect areas and would drive all night with all sorts of contrivances to avoid stopping. But in 1936, a man named Victor Hugo Green started a travel guide to make life on the road easier and safer for black motorists. The guide listed, state by state, the restaurants, hotels, service stations, and other businesses that would welcome African-American travelers. Green called it “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” or “The Green Book,” for short.

Green was a mailman in Hackensack, New Jersey, who kept hearing stories about discrimination on the road. Jewish tourists, who also faced discrimination while traveling, had relied on similar guides to steer them away from hotels with a “Gentiles Only” policy. In the Green Book’s early days, it wasn’t easy to compile listings from across the country, says playwright, author, and filmmaker Calvin Alexander Ramsey, who has researched the history of the guide. So Ramsey says Green tapped into a nationwide network of African-American letter carriers. These postal workers, familiar with their local communities, were ideally suited to help fill in the gaps from state to state.

Distribution of the guide remained a challenge, says Ramsey, and Green relied on informal networks like the National Urban League, the NAACP, masonic lodges, and churches around the country.
There was also a big corporate sponsor that helped the guide expand its reach: Esso, also known as Standard Oil, and now known as ExxonMobil.

The Green Book would come to feature listings across all 50 states as well as locations in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. About 15,000 copies were printed each year.

As the Green Book caught on, businesses began to get in touch, asking to be listed. Black newspapers signed on as sponsors. The United States Travel Bureau helped spread the word about the guide. Eventually, Green retired from mail delivery to work full-time on the guide and to open a travel agency.

The Black traveler became a key example in Congressional debate over The Civil Rights Act.
After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the laws improved. The last edition of the book was published in 1966.

No comments: