Black Experience

Mapping Segregation

DTU Fellows Uncover the Perils, Pride of The Negro Motorist Green Book

This year’s Chevrolet Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Fellows included three exceptionally bright young people, hailing from three of the nation’s most sought-after historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Tedarius Abrams (Bethune-Cookman), Elae Hill (North Carolina A&T) and Sharon Washington (Florida A&M) joined The Washington Informer editorial team June 14, after a intensive boot camp and kickoff in Atlanta. Working with Dr. Shantella Sherman, The Informer’s Special Editions editor, the Fellows’ work began in earnest as they made their trek from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.

Using the 1959 Negro Motorist Green Book as a guide, the students were tasked with charting their route by making periodic stops along the way. The Negro Motorist Green Book (also The Negro Motorist Green-Book, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, or simply the Green Book) was an annual guidebook for African Americans traveling the interstate. Published by Black World War I veteran and New York civil serviceman Victor Hugo Green, the Green Book printed from 1936 to 1966, when Jim Crow laws, or ad hoc segregation barred Blacks from accessing white-owned hotels, restaurants, gas stations, or bathrooms. This placed Black travelers in dangerous and often hostile spaces away from home … unless their journeys had been planned using Green’s directory of Black-owned facilities.

Divided by states, as well as cities, the reprinted guide helped DTU students gauge the time, distance, and potential hazards avoided by traveling the interstate with a ready assistant. Of the hundreds of locations listed from Atlanta to the District of Columbia, only a handful remain, and the Fellows took time out to visit the Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro, North Carolina, as well as the Historic DC YMCA (now the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust). The 60-year time lapse between the guide and the Fellows’ own journey gave them an opportunity to document the loss of nearly 90 percent of the Black-owned businesses highlighted in the book. They saw first-hand the devastation caused by a number of urban realities — including integration, redlining and gentrification.

Once in D.C., and with several smaller assignments in hand, the DTU Fellows added nuance and personal memories to the Green Book experience by interviewing visitors to the Green Book Interactive located in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. After participating in the Interactive Green Book journey that placed the Fellows inside a vehicle in the 1940s headed South, they discussed the accuracy and poignancy of the exhibit with others.

“One man was moved to tears after learning how difficult moving around the country was for Black people under segregation, especially when the Interactive talked about putting large coffee cans and blankets in the trunk to use in case no bathrooms allowed Black access, or if no hotels would allow them to stay and they had to sleep inside their cars along the side of the road,” DTU Fellow Sharon Washington said. “It made me realize how much we take for granted today – something as simple as checking into a hotel or stopping to fill up the tank.”

As broadcast journalism students, much of the Fellows’ Informer work is packaged as video and production clips of their assignments which included, Father’s Day celebrations, the mayor’s annual summer meals and recreation kickoff, red carpet and screenings for “Snowfall” and “The Bobby DeBarge Story,” as well as shadowing staff writers covering reparations hearings on Capital Hill, and doing initial video runs for Behind the Scenes of Go-Go’s Fight against Gentrification and The Washington Informer’s 55th Anniversary.

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