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The Negro Motorist Green Book

March 19 – June 12, 2022 

From the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service

WHEN THE FIRST GREEN BOOK WAS PUBLISHED in 1936, the American road was a metaphor for freedom. Freedom to change your present situation, freedom to determine your destiny, freedom to travel. Yet, in 20th century America, this same road was a dangerous place for Black citizens. The land was divided by segregation—through policy or through custom. If you were Black, the prejudice was severe: a systematic effort to deny access to your basic human rights. Imagine the indignity of government-backed and socially-normalized oppression. Imagine the pain, the violence, the disrespect. And yet and still, African Americans created destinations and strategies that affirmed their humanity, their worth, their light, and took to the roads.

It was done with ingenuity, with community, and with the help of a Harlem postman named Victor Green.

“…the traveling was and wasn’t fun…We couldn’t eat in the restaurants in the South and so we had to go in the market to get what you called ‘souse’ [hogshead cheese] and white saltine crackers. But listen, darling, I loved souse…That was fun. We’d laugh right on down the highway and still have a good time.”

— ARETHA FRANKLIN, vocalist, composer/arranger, and civil rights activist

“The Green Book” travel guide was created by Victor Green to provide African American travelers with critical information on restaurants, gas stations, department stores, accommodations, and other businesses that welcomed Black travelers during the era of Jim Crow and “sundown towns.” Published annually through 1967, the national guide’s rich history is highlighted in the multimedia exhibition, The Negro Motorist Green Book. This exhibition was curated by Candacy Taylor, one of the nation’s leading Green-Book scholars and an award-winning author, photographer, and documentarian.

Visitors will get an immersive look at the reality of travel for African Americans in mid-century America, and how The Green Book served as an indispensable resource for the nation’s rising African American middle class. You’ll be transported back to a time when, if you were Black, it took bravery and a Green Book to cross the country safely; explore film, photographs, art installations, interactives, and oral histories from travelers and Green Book business owners; compare Green Book sites then and now; and appreciate historical objects from the Smithsonian and from a variety of Green Book sites. You’ll understand not only the apprehension felt by African American travelers, but also the resilience, innovation, and elegance of people choosing to live a full American existence. The exhibition also brings into focus the vibrant parallel world of African American businesses, the rise of the Black leisure class, and the important role “The Green Book” played in facilitating the second wave of the Great Migration is brought into view.

Washington State Historical Society

1911 Pacific Ave
Tacoma, WA
(253) 272-3500

Founded in 1891 and now into its second century of service, the Washington State Historical Society is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and vividly presenting Washington's rich and storied history. The Historical Society offers a variety of services to researchers, historians, scholars, and lifelong learners, as well as operating the State History Research Center and the Washington State History Museum.