Route 66, the Mother Road, the road of flight for those chased from their land by clouds of top soil that turned the day into night, the gateway to adventure for the first wave of baby boomers who saw the country through the back window of the station wagon, and the stuff of dreams for a new generation discovering the legendary highways charms in the first decades of the 21st century. There is another chapter in the highways history and it is one seldom discussed.
For the Negro, the polite word used to differentiate American citizens of African-American heritage during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Route 66 had a dark side. From Chicago to Los Angeles these vacationers, these displaced people in search of a new life as they motored west on the double six, experienced the old road from the shadows.
More often than not, the beacon of neon at the end of a long day of driving was not a welcome site for these folks. Neither was the cafe known for its good food by the number of trucks parked out front.
Driving straight through by changing drivers was one option but this too carried its share of risks as some communities had sunset laws that prohibited “Negroes” from being on the streets at night. So, to avoid embarrassing, or even potentially dangerous, situations there were restless, uncomfortable nights spent sleeping in the car or on the ground and lots of picnic lunches.
Thanks to Victor H. Green these travelers were provided with another option, The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide that listed motels, hotels, service stations, garages, restaurants, and other businesses that catered to African-Americans or at least allowed them to use the rear entrance or sleep on cots in the basement.
Victor Green is one of those fellows who decided to light a candle rather than curse the darkness and though he played a major role in the transformation of America, obscurity has been his reward. Born in Harlem, New York, in 1892, Green began gathering information about businesses in the New York area where disenfranchised African-Americans could find services and in 1936 published the first edition of a pamphlet that became known as the Green Book.
By 1949 his little booklet had become an 80 page travel guide that worked hand in glove with his travel business. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Green was a man with a dream, “There will be a day something in the near future when this guide will not have to published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.”
In 1952, he changed the name for his guide to The Negro Travelers Green Book and expanded the content to include international destinations but publication still took place at his travel office located at 200 W. 135th Street in Harlem. With passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, publication ceased.
It was after careful deliberation that I decided to give a cursory salute to the contributions of Victor Green and shine the light on a dark corner of history. It is something I have been wanting to do for sometime and as I will be providing more information about the Green Book in the forthcoming Route 66 encyclopedia, a preview seemed in order.
However, the real catalyst was the fact that this coming Monday we will be celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. and there is a growing cacophony of shrill voices crying out to have Huckleberry Finn fixed so it suits our modern, thin skinned sensitivities. By ignoring the era when the Green Book was as much a traveling tool as a jack or spare tire for a large segment or our population, or by removing the offensive “nigger” word from this classic book we do a grave disservice to our children and our heritage.
By rewriting history as we would like it to have been we distort the vision of the future because we are blinded to the progress made. In so doing we empower those who use the chains of prejudice for their personal gain or as justification for their hatred.
So, for fans of the double six, expand your horizons, find a copy of the Green Book, if you can, and see Route 66 as never before. And for those who choose to while away long winter evenings with a good book, discover or rediscover the masterful writings of Mark Twain, and spend some time with Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, mileposts on the road to an America where the dreams of many of the founders of this nation, of Martin Luther King Jr., and Victor Green are made manifest in a president of African American heritage.

If you enjoy Jim Hinckley\'s America, take a second to support jimhinckleysamerica on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!