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.