In 1936, Harlem postal worker Victor H. Green began publishing The Negro Motorist Green-Book. This guide helped African Americans navigate the nation’s highways and byways. It provided listings of safe stopping places. For a small sum, African American travelers could buy the guide and plan trips with some sense of security that they could find places where they would be served along the highways.
Black men and women who could afford to purchase an automobile could escape some of the pains and humiliations of traveling on trains, buses, and streetcars in the Jim Crow era. A family traveling by car did not have to sit in a segregated rail or bus station, did not have to ride in a segregated railcar, did not have to sit in the back of the bus, and did not have to interact with hostile white passengers or public transit employees.
Although cars let Black families escape the constant humiliations of the Jim Crow railcar, automobile travel could also be a challenging experience. As a letter to Victor H. Green published in the 1938 edition of the Green Book put it, “It is a book badly needed among our Race since the advance of the motor age.” In every region of the US, white-owned roadside businesses routinely denied African Americans service. Black travelers often struggled to find a place to sleep, eat, drink, use the restroom, or buy gas as they traveled.
Wilmington was first listed in the Green Book in 1939. Over the years of the book’s publication, more than 50 local sites were listed. Cape Fear Museum is currently hosting an exhibit, Navigating Jim Crow: The Green Book and Oasis Spaces in North Carolina, on view until August 29, 2021.
To learn more about New Hanover County’s Green Book sites, click here to explore the story map.
July: A popularity contest, July 1915
June: The Competition Heats Up June 18, 1884
May: A New Hospital is dedicated, May 7, 1967
April: The First Earth Day, 1970
March: Women and the Wilmington Museum of Art
February: African Americans Working on the Railroad
January 2021: January 9, 1861
December: Holiday Gifts
November: November 11, 1918 – Armistice is Signed
October: Fire Prevention Week, October 8 through 14, 1972
September: Neal Thomas’s One-Man Show, September 13, 1958
August: August 26, 1920 – the Women’s Suffrage Amendment is officially ratified
July: July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
June: D-Day, Henry Jay MacMillan, and World War II
May: Firestarter Premieres on College Road
April: The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
March: Lethia Sherman Hankins
February: The Great Fire of 1886
January 2020: Cape Fear Museum gets a new home, January 18, 1992