EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A new exhibit at Michigan State University is built around a 20th century guidebook that black motorists relied on during the segregation era to find places where they could safely sleep, eat, shop or find services while traveling.
The exhibit for “The Negro Motorist Green Book” runs until the end of November. It also introduces the guide’s publisher, Victor H. Green, a postal carrier in the Harlem section of New York whose book helped generations of African Americans travel. Though segregation by law persisted in the south until the 1960s, there was also segregation by practice in Detroit.
“The city was even more segregated then than it is now,” said Ken Coleman, a Detroit author, historian and journalist. “A publication like the Green Book would be very helpful to someone, if they were visiting from another part of the country and happened to be African-American. It was really a road map to where you could find entertainment and lodging and a good restaurant to have dinner.”
From 1936 to 1966, the guide cumulatively listed 86 black-friendly businesses in Detroit and five in Lansing. The exhibit presents side-by-side, before-and-after pictures of the businesses, showcasing how they looked 50 to 80 years ago and today. The historical display follows the 2018 release of “Green Book,” an Oscar-winning film highlighting the guide that African-Americans consultedwhen traveling in the South during the Jim Crow era.
Green was moved to write the book in part by the discrimination he and his wife faced on trips to her racially segregated hometown of Richmond, Virginia. He also got inspiration from a Jewish associate who showed him a similar travel guide for Jews.
Green eventually expanded his book to include the Jim Crow South and then harshly segregated areas of the north, extending beyond New York.
The guide became so popular, he later quit his day job.
“The book is a guide to freedom, so they wouldn’t be humiliated when they got turned away, and so forth. They could carry that book and say, look, I’m free now, to stop where I wish because there are places that will accept me,” said Joe Darden, a professor of geography, environment and spatial sciences at Michigan State. “Victor H. Green has not gotten the credit that he deserves, in the consideration of civil rights.”
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