The Negro Motorist Green Book guided Black Americans to thousands of businesses for over thirty years.
When the first Green Book was published, the American road was a metaphor for freedom. Yet, in 20th-century America, this same road was a dangerous place for Black citizens. An intricate system of rules and regulations disempowered Black people and subjected them to constant harassment.
In a Jim Crow world, where policy limited access to affordable housing and neighborhoods of choice, having a car opened your world. It was a prized possession, as thrilling as it was useful. It was a portal to humanity, from work and family functions to household needs and leisurely getaways.
The guide was fueled by a vision and a wish that seemed improbable: that Black people in America could experience dignity, comfort, and safety as they navigated the world. The virtual Green Book tour allows us to remember what once was.
The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibit was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with Candacy Taylor, author of Overground Railroad.
The James-Keys Hotel
The James-Keys Hotel was established by booking agent Mason W. “Slo Boy” James and businesswoman Louise N. Keys. The hotel was located on the site of the former Booker T. Washington Hotel.
It contained a theater that was used to show films, and a ballroom for musical performances and concerts. Entertainers such as James Brown, Bill Doggett, Nat King Cole, Billy Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, and Jackie (Moms) Mabley performed there.
Take a trip back in time at negromotoristgreenbook.si.edu/virtual-exhibit.