Friday, September 12, 2014

"Negro Motorist Green Book" Reveals a Different Route 66 Experience

Negro Motorist Green Book cover, 1949 edition

Arizona Sun Daily

Before the Civil Rights Era, there existed a series of travel books called “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” These travel guides existed specifically to help African American travelers navigate the challenges of finding food and accommodations along the highway that would cater to them.

Publisher Victor Green said the book would “give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” In learning about a Route 66 version of the “Green Book,” historian Sean Evans found that only a small handful of the businesses in Flagstaff were deemed friendly to African Americans in the late 40s.

Among them was The DuBeau on Phoenix Avenue, the Nackard Inn and another hotel called the Vandervere that was located on Santa Fe Avenue. Only one restaurant was listed—a small cafĂ© at 111 S. San Francisco St. The travel guide did not offer much else in the mountain town that would be a recommended stop.

And, across Arizona, the choices along Route 66 were generally limited. Evans noted that neither Holbrook nor Winslow had listings in the book, making travel through the region challenging for African American travelers.

“I am pretty schooled in Route 66 and up until four or five years ago, I didn’t even know what that was,” said Evans of the “Green Books.” He has been a longtime 66 booster, historian and frequent traveler and learned of the travel guides through Frank Norris, a historian with the National Park Service. “The shocking thing was there were very few places to stop along 66 … Norris is developing a picture of how different of an experience it would have been for these motorists … They had to plan around where to physically stop for the night.”

Although it is a difficult aspect of history to explore, the “Green Books” reveal yet another aspect of traveling Route 66. It shows a different kind of experience would have existed for different travelers. And it is just part of what is the continued evolution and unearthing of how the famed highway known as the Mother Road is understood.