A new mobile tool combines the latest technology with the legacy of a forgotten past when “traveling while black” was an activity fraught with peril and danger.
In a first-of-its-kind combination of history and technology, the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission has created a web-based mobile version of The Green Book—also known as the Negro Motorist Green Book and the Negro Travelers Green Book—to guide tourists and residents interested in visiting historical sites that highlight the cultural and historic tradition of African Americans in the state.
During the Jim Crow era, black travelers faced a number of concerns: Many hotels, inns and restaurants didn’t allow black customers. White-owned businesses in the South often refused to service vehicles driven by African Americans. Even stopping to use gas station restrooms was fraught with peril across the Southern United States. In 1956, only three hotels in the entire state of New Hampshire offered accommodations to black travelers.
Thus, this was not just a Southern phenomenon. According to the book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism, by the end of the 1960s, more than 10,000 towns forbade blacks from entering their city limits after dark, including Glendale, Calif., and Warren, Mich. Over half the incorporated towns in Illinois were “sundown towns” like Anna, Ill., which expelled its entire black population in 1909 and had the unofficial slogan “Ain’t no niggers allowed.”
In 1937, a mail carrier named Victor Hugo Green published the Negro Motorist Green Book—a guide for New York of places that welcomed black travelers. He relied on information from fellow black postal carriers, and the book became so popular, many referred to it as “the bible for black travelers.” By the time the last edition of the Green Book was published in 1966-1967, it had expanded from a 15-page guide for New York to 99 pages of information indicating safe harbor for blacks traveling all over America and internationally.
Created by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the Green Book of South Carolina has been designed for travelers and residents interested in the cultural and historical sites across the state. Similar to a tourism app, it encompasses every county in South Carolina and highlights the rich cultural history of places like Charleston’s slave market, numerous civil rights landmarks and the historic Rosenwald Schools.
“The development of the mobile guide perfectly aligns with our organization’s mission to identify and promote the preservation of historic sites, structures, buildings and culture of the African-American experience in South Carolina,” said Jannie Harriot, vice chairperson of the commission. (In the interests of full disclosure, Jannie Harriot is related to the writer by motherhood.)
The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission works to increase the social, political and economic value of South Carolina African-American heritage; encourage and demonstrate respect for all heritages; document and institutionalize African-American heritage as an ongoing goal of preservation; and explore all areas of South Carolina for African-American contributions.
Check out the Green Book of South Carolina here.