How Black History Month began and how it has changed to what it is today
Here’s why the founder Carter G. Woodson created Black History Month and how it’s different today than he originally planned.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
At a time when the simple act of trav-eling through the United States often put Black people in physical danger, “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was an es-sential guide to safe spaces.
Published by Victor Hugo Green annually from 1936 to 1966, the book helped Black travelers in the Jim Crow period find hotels, restaurants, gas stations andother businesses that would serve them.
The Academy Award-winning movie “Green Book” renewed interest in the publication, which had ceased publishing after major civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s. Today, a new generation of authors are illuminating the heritage with new books and a podcast decades after Green’s annual guide stopped publishing.
“The Green Book enabled African Americans to travel with dignity and find safe harbors during a period in U.S. history when the vast majority of white-owned businesses, even in large urban areas, were not welcoming, even hostile, to Black patrons,” said Alvin Hall, host of the Macmillan Podcast series, “Driving the Green Book,” which launched in September.
Establishments in the book, most of them Black-owned, “welcomed not only their dollars but were also genuinely welcoming to them as human beings, an experience that could be hard to ﬁnd during the days of segregation,” Hall said.
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Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance, told USA TODAY that after learning about the Green Book she was inspired to create her own, modern version. Her “ABC Travel Greenbook: Connecting the African Diaspora Globally” which catalogs Black-owned businesses and Black-focused experiences such as tours, among other resources for international travel.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, why have I never heard about this book?’ … I’m like the Black travel guru,” Lewis said, noting she bought every copy of the original Green Books that she could find.
Like its predecessor, Lewis’ book is more than a just a directory of businesses.
“I give paragraphs and I’ll let you know: ‘There’s been this many cases of discrimination (at a given location) that we know about, be alert and be aware,'” Lewis explained.
Lewis also includes personal experiences. For example, she lists one in which she was walking down the street and was called “a monkey.” She wants readers to to be aware of what could happen in certain places.
“I always tell people do your research before you go. Because, for one, not everybody is racist, a lot of times people have never seen Black people in these places,” she said. She pointed to an experience she had in Latvia in 2019. “People ask to take photos, people ask to touch your hair.”
Lewis is also working on an app that will include reviews. It will be something like a “Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook fused into one,” she said.
Lewis’ book serves all travelers — including those who want to serve as allies and support Black-owned businesses. “There are so many different ways we can all become more inclusive.”
Candacy Taylor spent weeks on the road photographing and investigating“Green Book” sites for “Overground Railroad”, published last year, a book tracing the roots of Black travel.
“The Green Book made travel more enjoyable because Black people didn’t have to worry about being turned away and humiliated by white business owners,” Taylor said.
When Taylor spent time on the road researching, sometimes working up to 15 hours a day and scouting up to 30 sites, her stepfather, Ron, worried about her.
“We’d talk a lot when I was driving in the car and I had to check in with him every day,” she said. “[He] taught me how to use a stun gun and a knife. … He was always concerned for my safety and he should have been.”
While things have changed since the Jim Crow-era when the “Green Book” was so indispensable, the possibility of a violent encounter still gives Black drivers a reason to be wary when on the road, said Maira Liriano, the associate chief librarian at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library. The center holds an extensive collection of “Green Book” editions.
“If you think about how many killings have happened recently with Black motorists – so many of the police shootings have been associated with Black motorists – I think you start connecting the dots, and I think it’s really important to understand the history,” Liriano said.
The text of the original “Green Book” text stayed mostly positive, with darker undertones pertaining to safety on the road, Liriano said.
“Victor kept the written communication in the Green Books very upbeat,” she said. “He never acknowledged the racial violence and discrimination that had prompted the creation of his guide. The tone was very businesslike, but in subtle ways he expressed why the guide was so important.”
While the new efforts pay tribute to Green’s original vision, they’re also a reminder that the books’ original mission remains a work in progress. Liriano read from the last paragraph of the original Green Book’s introduction from 1948 to 1951:
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”
Publication of Green’s annual guide ended in 1966. The need for it has not.