The real story of the Green Book

Imagine you’re on a road trip with your
family. The year’s 1954 and you’re black. Segregation is law in the South and
basically practiced everywhere else in America. You’re traveling down the famed
Route 66 and you’ve just reached Albuquerque, New Mexico for the first
time. There’s not another town for miles and
you want to pull over and sleep for the night. There are over a hundred motels to
choose from, but less than eight will take you in. Picking the wrong one could
lead to a humiliating encounter or worse, a violent one, but there was actually a
way to know where you’d be welcome. It was in the Green Book. Americans fell in love with the idea of
the road trip in the mid-20th century. A growing middle class meant more people
had cars and jobs with paid vacation time. And a newly built interstate
highway system meant the country was accessible to a big part of the
population for the first time. The open road indicated freedom and traveling by
car reflected Americans’ image of themselves: self-sufficient, curious, and
spontaneous. It was a way for families to spend time together and see the
expansive country they called home, to experience America’s cultural and
natural diversity. Through the 1950s and ’60s, the highway became the most common
way for American families to travel. Motels and roadside attractions sprang
up along the highway to accommodate travelers needing a place to sleep or
eat at any point on their journey. But that freedom didn’t extend to all
Americans. Black motorists were turned away from the roadside hotels, gas
stations, and restaurants that had taken over the American landscape. Some places were so hostile that it was unsafe to even get out of a car. Sundown towns forcibly expelled African Americans at night, sometimes violently. Black families had to take prepared food, in case they wouldn’t find a restaurant that would
serve them, extra gallons of gasoline in case filling stations wouldn’t sell to
them, and even empty coffee tins in case they couldn’t access a bathroom. They carried blankets and pillows knowing that finding a safe place to sleep could
mean camping by the roadside or driving long hours into the night, even though
they had money to pay for a hotel. Sometimes, that distance was fatal. It was the exact opposite of the spontaneous American road trip. But thanks to a Harlem
postal-worker-turned-travel agent, knowing where to go wasn’t a total shot
in the dark. In 1936 Victor Hugo Greene collected information
on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, and mechanic shops that would reliably serve
African Americans in New York City. He called his Travel Guide “The Negro
Motorist Green-Book” and began publishing an updated version each year, using his network at the United States Postal Service, which was one of the largest
single employers of African Americans at the time. Green put together detailed
information on businesses and private homes that would welcome black travelers. The Green Book eventually grew to cover locations in all 50 States and sold ad
space to businesses all over the country. With the help of Esso, now ExxonMobil, as
a progressive corporate partner and distributor of the guides, around 15,000
copies of the Green Book started selling each year. Victor Greene’s once-16-page booklet ballooned to over a hundred pages and became a
stable item for black families who wanted to participate in the joy of
cross-country travel. And it turns out that iconic image of the open road, of
freedom and family values, would become an anchor in the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King even mentions it in his “I have a dream” speech. The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in 1964 and just two years later the
Green Book went out of print. It had become obsolete. And as the road cut
through the broad plains, you felt the tremendous space all around you. A
country rolling out to the horizon, and you rolling with it. It was beautiful and you
sort of sensed the real meaning behind the word “freedom”.

Comments 100

  • Want to see Green Book listings in your hometown? Check out these amazing scans of several editions from the New York Public Library:

  • Resciem still there

  • People who gave negative opinions about this are the ones who hate dealing with the fact how people treated minorities back in the day. It’s the truth, sorry that you don’t want to deal with the guilt.
    It’s not your fault, just don’t repeat history.

  • Great info and extraordinarily well produced Mini-doc, thanks. As a Canadian, the issues of race in the US never cease to confuse me. Not that we don’t have our share of prejudice here but I’m always shocked when I realize just how systemic and pervasive it was and still is to some degree in America. During the war, we too locked up Japanese people, too, so it’s not like we are better or anything but we didn’t create race-based laws either.

  • I want to buy that green book, where I can buy it, only for collection

  • This was a really great video!

  • I feel so bad for all people affected by racism. I loved the film and I don't understand why people wouldn't want to be educated about this. It's not far history and racism is unfortunately very much alive

  • This can't be forgiven or forgotten

  • the world, it's something crazy

  • Amerikkka then. Amerikkka now, but more subtle.

  • Segregation was the best thing. We need to go back to using it.

  • That background music is haunting. Love it. What's the title please?

  • I know that every country had or has racism problem. But I don't get why most american really hated black people that much back then. Shooting without reason and denying gas? It's not even come from religion bigotry background or social jealousy, things that usually trigger racism

  • I assumed the movie was bs. Did anyone actually watch it?

  • My dad told me once that when he lived in the US during the 60s (he was 6 years old by then), he got into a bus with his mom and older brother. Supposedly during that time, and apparently in the city they were living at, black people could take unoccupied seats if all white people were seated. The thing is that my grandma has white skin, like my dad and uncle. So a black guy was seated in one of these spots, and suddenly a couple of big white dudes come to lift him by force and offer gently the seat to my grandma. According to my dad, she was muted and didn't know how to react, but finally just said thank you and took the seat while hushing my dad, and didn't say anything during the rest of the travel. The crazy part of the story is that all my family is latin-american. Sure, we have scottish ancestry but latins anyway. So it makes you think on how these white dudes could have reacted knowing that they were lifting a black person from his seat to give it to a latin lady. I always think that's the reason why she just stayed quiet and confused

  • what's astounding is the amount of dislikes. how can people dislike this article?

  • Vigo was robbed deserved the oscar.

  • Vox never makes a story that isn't about race.

  • Quite interesting ! The background music is so moving. What's the source?

  • That violin music is so good, wish I knew what it was called.

  • History isn’t always happy . Nice video vox

  • What's the name of the piece used as the soundtrack?

    ya know, back when non-whites, gays, and women were all discriminated against, great times

  • Must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque

  • Oh wow another race video what a surprise vox! Always coming up with new creative ideas

  • Vox: *literally just makes an unbiased video about racism and segregation in America

    y'all: Vox used to be so good until it turned into anti-white libtard propaganda smh 😤😔🤘🏼

  • Damn america u messed up

  • Vox is honestly such an amazing channel

  • Reality really is crazier than Fiction…

  • This made me tear up a little because the fact that someone had to make a guide on staying safe on the road in regards to one’s race is saddening.

  • I got told this story by an older lady because she saw it with her own eyes. This is very recent history.

  • Lol this started with a Prager U ad. Can you imagine a school discriminating based on race? Yes my friend was doxed by white supremists and my school sided with them.

  • My mom was born in 1962, and always talks about her experiences traveling from Louisiana to Las Vegas during her summers as a kid. She once mentioned how her great aunt would carry a tin coffee can to urinate in. She found it disgusting, but now I know why our aunt did it. It was to avoid stopping in areas that weren't black friendly.

  • bring the greenbook back. the are still sundown towns and tides that are unsafe for black people to even drive through.
    that's literally the reason I have no desire to take a roadtrip.

  • Kaucasian Kave Kreatures

  • And it won the oscar now wow

  • Wait a minute! We didn't have highlighters in the 50s and 60s. 🙂

  • These days they’re called Trumpards

  • Its it wonderful we now live in a better time where we don't need these books. While life still isn't perfect, I believe in martin luther kings dream, judge by works not by the pigment of your skin!

  • This was just perfect!

  • I am not American. But the green book directly becoming obsolete after segregation had ended sounds naive to me. My point being that the government can't control human behavior just by laws

  • Think I’ll go watch the movie now…..

  • Thats sad they treated people like that

  • Very cruel and immoral creatures

  • The funniest thing about this year's award season was white america's overcompensating for Trump being in power. Black Panther = standard marvel movie. With black people. Green Book, terribly condescending white people movie. Wins Best Oscar. It's hilarious! Like Americans saying; see, we can't be racist. We like love black panther! And green book too! That scene where the white dude teaches the black how to eat fried chicken. The whole country can't be racist because we liked a movie! Who cares if Trump's in power.

  • Interesting. Most of these precautions — carrying food, bedding, being ready to camp is how I routinely travel. But it's not out of fear or rules not letting me stop, but rather the good chance there is no where to stop. I'm white, living in Canada. Canada still has an awful lot of not much. When I travel to Vancouver there are stretches of well over an hour that there is no town at all. About half the way has no cell reception more than a mile from the centre of the town.

  • One of the buildings listed is near my family's shop, wow!

  • To be 100% honest, this book could still relevantly be published today in some aspects. I go to college out in rural TN and although I’m white I’ve noticed many places around me that my roommates girlfriend who is black has been stared at or had things said to her. A lot of these towns I wouldn’t hang around to this day after dark.

  • I’m cringing every time he highlights the book omg

  • Never Learned this until now! The internet hides nothing! 733,000 viewers will tell at least one other person. Internet video services are a strong tool.

  • I thought this was about Ghaddafi's book

  • I felt so many emotions throughout this 4 minute video

  • What is that beautiful violin music called?

  • Now I understand why my grandparents and parents always packed sandwiches which we travelled.

  • Is this what the movie is about?? This is amazing, Mr. Green was a hero. I thought the movie was a reversed Driving Miss Daisy. Didn't see it, but I would be interested in a movie about a black family traveling in the early sixties and using the Green Book.

  • Thank you for talking about this piece of American history.


  • Such a good video. Thank you

  • Thank you Vox

  • Dont like your videos usually
    But this one is great

  • Only learning about this after the Oscar's aha

  • Link the music. I'm trying to listen to it. Like music from most videos. Like the one about the Russian picture in ww1. Also amazing video. My dad was born in 65. And while his family didn't need to use it they still did while going on road trips. These videos are just so good. I live vox.

  • I feel like it’s time to let a black narrator take over for some things, it just seems disingenuous sometimes hearing it from white man

  • Jobs with paid vacation time? That's a lie in Murica

  • An optimism and freedom that existed before the dread of climate change and corporate monopoly filled the hearts of young, current Americans

  • As a kid, my dream was to road trip through the American heartland make a comic about it. As a brown, Muslim adult I think I need to do to this more than ever before. Lovely stuff Vox! <3

  • Really well told story

  • this the BEST attraction @ the national Black history museum it had strangers interacting with one another as if we was actually on this trip together trying to avoid any negative issues USUALLY WON'T SAY THIS BUT IT WAS A FUN INTERACTING WITH OTHERS TRYING NOT TO GET LYNCH 😀 please note white folks as video game fun NOT REAL LIFE OR IN REALITY

  • 2:44

  • Amazing video

  • France: Automobiles are a thing now! Let's come up with a travel guide to list affordable restaurants that eventually will amass so much prestige that restaurateurs will fight to be featured in it, and people will know where to get excellent food anywhere in the world!

    USA: Automobiles are a thing now! Let's come up with a travel guide to list places where black drivers can find lodge with no fear of being lynched that eventually will amass so much prestige that it will be forgotten until it is featured in a whitewashed racist movie!

  • This video is more deserving of that Oscar, along with Mr. Ali

  • Hotel?


  • Those were the days

  • Hopefully , videos like this will give non Americans some idea of the true history of the United States, not the ` land of freedom and democracy for all '  propaganda that  this country has been feeding foreigners for years.

  • Wow this really hit home for me my earliest memories were road trips with my family and to think just 50+ years ago we wouldn't have been able to do any of that

  • I am a Japanese American and remember being refused service in the late 90s in upstate ny… and not to be obnoxious but our family lived in a wealthy NYC suburb (we had just dropped my brother off at summer camp which is why we were in upstate ny) and we might have been in a BMW (can’t recall if it was that car or the Volvo) – anyway the point is we were well dressed, educated, could obviously pay, and were behaving normally, just quietly waiting at the “please wait to be seated” sign at a diner as one does. The staff pretended they didn’t see us even while we waited for over 10 min while we could see they had plenty of empty seating, seated a white family who came in after us, and still would refuse to make eye contact with us, so we got the hint and left. Nothing overtly hostile, just a refusal to acknowledge our presence. I was still a kid so I didn’t say anything and my parents’ English isn’t perfect so probably the best course of action, especially since rural upstate NY is a scarily conservative place. Not sure what would have happened had we asked what was going on, and if I had been an adult back then, I might have asked, but alas we will never know. So no, not ancient history and not just a phenomenon in the Deep South.

  • I'd be interested to see a vox video about the time period mentioned inthis video, when the post office was a major employees of black Americans! What lead to this, was it a good thing (did it create upward mobility maybe, since it's a good government job? Or was it predatory EMP,oyment and underpayment?), And why did that change?

  • This is an informative, eye opening, and well made video. As someone who only heard about United States from the distance, I always find it baffling why racism is still warm issue even today. I hope things keep changing for the better. I personally believe that eventually all humanity realised that everyone wants to be safe and happy.

  • this video is better than the movie

  • where can the other minorities such as the Asians and Latinos stay during this period?

  • wow, this was real?

  • Thank you so much for doing this video. It's an unfortunate, but important part of our history. My father, who is 80 years old now, told me recently he was happy and honored to know that one of his neighbors, who babysat him, is listed in one of the editions of the Green Book for Waycross, Georgia.

  • Am I the only person who’s obsessive compulsive attitude towards books let them triggered whenever he added highlighter and pen marks to the historic book? 😷😬

  • C'mon don't make it so it sounds so racist… Just Democrats doing their job

  • Green saved lots of human lives

  • Someone should make an updated Green book just to see how many of these businesses listed in the original Green book are still around. Would be interesting to visit some of these places if they still existed – if you are history buff that is.

  • Never thought this kind of story was happened not too long ago. I thought it was at least in the 1800s.

  • Who came here after Green Book’s Oscar success?

  • political correctness exist for a reason, try to not get tired of it so fast we have a long way to go

  • As a child in the 1970s, my grandparents would start at 3am with loads of food prepared before our travels from Mississippi to Chicago only stopping in Memphis and St. Louis for gas and restroom breaks along the way. I'm not even 50 and I can remember the residual of a time just before me…That old Chevy Impala sure could put in work.

  • I would like to see a new green book that way I would support African American businesses.

  • It’s crazy how sun down towns STILL exist to this day and versions of his green book have become apps to STILL help guide black people to safe areas to live and rest. But y’all get mad when we talk about race. Sure it’s a new day, but the same hate still exists.

  • God I started tearing up a bit bc I grew up in a small town along route 66 and often we traveled town to town to aquire what we need (do laundry, legal work, hospitals/clinics) so those gas stations and hotels have always been part of home for me. Seeing how people of color, specifically black people were treated in towns like my hometown and having that American dream of roadtrips ruined for them idk im rambling and emotional. I'm so thankful things have changed

  • Good to see a movie about the Gaddafi book

  • I still won’t stop in the south to go to the bathroom, those restrooms are nasty…

  • Could you please make a real story on mud-bound too?

  • 3:12 – I'm laughing at the kids riding in the back. They're not wearing seatbelts, and their heads appear to be slightly above the top of the windshield, which means in a head on crash, they'll set a record for "Furthest Distance From A Vehicle A Headless Corpse Travels After A Crash."

  • I'm not American but I like to dig into other country's history as well as my own. But when I dive deep into American history.

    God bless America :))))

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