Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance
“The Green Book was more than just a road trip guide but a way of survival. Hall hopes that it’s history will live on.”
The road, a symbol of freedom, was fraught with dangers for Black travelers in the time when Jim Crow laws still existed. Not much is known about Victor Hugo Green, the author of the “Green Book,” a series of tomes released annually listing places in cities and states that willingly accommodated Black travelers.
What we do know is that Green at one point had worked as a postal worker and had an entrepreneurial spirit according to Alvin Hall, the author of Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance who hypothesizes that Green authored the book in response to his own travels with his wife, Alma.
“Back at the time the Green Book first appeared in the late 1930s, the automobile had seemed a likely safe haven for Black travelers—or at least safer,” writes Alvin Hall. “In a bus or on a train, a Black person ran the risks and humiliations of the laws and strictures around the use of public transportation due to segregation. That's why a car road trip was particularly important: travelers needed more protection en route to their destinations—whether that was going home to Birmingham, Alabama; to visit Uncle Jerome in New York; or to gather with Alma Greens relatives in Richmond, Virginia.”
Hall determined that he would revisit the places mentioned in Green’s books, accompanied by his friend Janée Woods Weber. Their journey took them from New York to New Orleans by way of Detroit. As they drove, they gathered in as much of the past as they could by visiting the clubs, restaurants, shops, and motels still in existence that Green said were safe. When possible, at each stop they tried to trace who were alive back then and capture their reminiscences.
In Memphis, they visit the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Besides the horrors of the murder of the Civil Rights leader, the monetary impact on the family that owned the hotel was profound as well as travelers shied away from staying there. But this is a story that has a sense of triumph as well. It is now a state-owned museum and on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Green Book was more than just a road trip guide but a way of survival. Hall hopes that it’s history will live on.