‘Green Book’ Inspires Black Travelers To Trace The Original Route
By Sharelle Burt
Oscars weekend is around the corner, and we can’t wait to see which movies take home the vaunted golden statues. Fan favorites like Roma, Black Panther, Blackkksman have inspired many with historic first nominations in different categories, but other movies inspired people in unique ways.
Oscar-nominated film Green Book has prompted travelers to retrace the original path of the book. Inspired by the real “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” the movie tells a tale of a white club bouncer, played by actor Viggo Mortensen, who agrees to drive a black classical pianist, played by Mahershala Ali, during the Jim Crow-era America in 1962. To protect the artist, Mortensen’s character uses the Green Book, a guide published from 1936 to 1966 by a Harlem postal worker named Victor H. Green.
During that time, racism stained the country and segregation was very much alive, making it very difficult for black people to travel. This book gave tips to black travelers and recommended safe places to eat, visit and sleep while on the road. Taverns, hotels, and gas stations were often black-owned and were identified by word-of-mouth or through paid advertisements. The book had a prominent warning on the covers that readers couldn’t miss. “Carry your Green Book with you, ”the cover said. “You may need it!”
Many of the places that were published in the book over 50 years ago are still standing. Some are still in business today and other standing in the shadows. The barbershop inside the Ben Moore Hotel in Alabama was featured in the Green Book when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the pastor at a church in Birmingham. The hotel still stands but is vacant. The Threatt Filling Station in Luther, Oklahoma, is a black-owned gas station on the famous Route 66 “Mother Road.” Partnerships with historians have helped to preserve the former station but it isn’t in business.
The De Anza Motor Lodge, owned by Indian art collector Charles G. Wallace, offered black travelers the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and a chance to watch a show of American Indian and Mexican-American doo-wop singers. Listed in only some editions of the Green Book, the lodge is finally being renovated after years of being abandoned.
Motorists can download all editions for free from the New York Public Library Digital Collections and use the guide to visit the sites that provided safe spaces for black travelers. The film has already won Golden Globe and SAG awards, but we hope to see Mahershala Ali walk away as the winner of best-supporting actor when the Oscars air Sunday night.