ABOUT OUR FILM
THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES:
A Tribute to Victor and Alma Green’s Jim Crow Era Travel Guides
This documentary is inspired by Co-Producer Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s extensive research and creative projects for over a decade focusing on the Jim Crow era travel guide series, “The Negro Motorist Green Book”, published by Harlem-based U. S. Post Office letter carrier, Victor H. Green, and his wife, Alma Green. The books were expanded in later years to include international destinations and renamed “The Negro Travelers Green Book” with Alma eventually taking on the leadership role, depicted with her 1951 all-female Green Book staff below.
For more details about Alma Duke Green’s background and pivotal role in the publication of the Green Books, see this article by Victoria Martinez from March 25, 2019: https://abitofhistoryblog.com/2019/03/25/the-mother-of-the-green-book-ignored-by-history/
For the documentary, directed and co-produced by Becky Wible Searles in six locations around the U.S. (Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, NYC, Washington DC, Newark NJ, and Myrtle Beach SC), live interviews are woven around motion media and animation segments reflecting travel graphics and social issues from 1936-66, exploring more than 30 personal stories connected to this little known Civil Rights era story about safe travel. Our goal is to complete the project in 2020 with the help of grants, sponsorship, and private donations. (See our DONATE tab above for more information.)
The Greens published the Green Books between 1936 and 1966 as a travel guide for African Americans during the days of Jim Crow laws, listing addresses of tourist homes, gas stations, restaurants, beauty parlors, and other establishments that welcomed black travelers during times when many others did not. Even outside the deep South, travel could be inconvenient, embarrassing, or even dangerous if you were not white. The books were available at ESSO gas stations and other African American-friendly businesses, even some white-owned establishments. Interestingly there were no phone numbers listed in the book, only addresses, so patrons would simply show up and be invited in, somewhat like a 20th century Underground Railroad.
More listings and features were added over time to include the Greens’ own reservation bureau and tour services along with a variety of articles, such as tips about vacationing in locations from New York and Chicago to the Bahamas. Advertising from both black and white-owned businesses expanded from simple listings to full page graphic layouts with photos selling products such as shoes and perfume as well as a variety of services. Many editions also profiled supportive businesses, such as ESSO and Ford, as well as personalities like late-night radio DJ, Joe Rosenfield Jr. and his “Big Joe’s Happiness Exchange” (see below), broadcasting on NYC’s WMGM from midnight to 2:00 a.m. Given that many African Americans felt safer driving at night than during the daytime, a radio show like Big Joe’s would attract many midnight travelers.
Above: Pages from the 1955 Negro Travelers Green Book highlighting the midnight radio show, “Big Joe’s Happiness Exchange”, ads Green’s Reservation Bureau, and Sightseeing in New York tours / Pages courtesy of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL) at Emory University, Atlanta GA with special thanks to Randall Burkett, Curator of African American Collections / Below: Shoe ad from the 1963-64 edition and cover from the 1966-67 International Edition / Courtesy of the New York Public Library / Schomburg online collection
At this writing, there is very little known, at least publicly, about Victor and Alma Green, but we are working with others to help change that. Our interviews in New York City in the summer of 2015 were the first time we were able to connect with anyone even remotely related to the Greens. We were fortunate to interview Ramona Green, a niece by marriage, who remembers meeting Uncle Victor at her wedding, but only several times after that, since he passed away in 1960. Also interviewed at that time was Brian Green, Ramona’s grandson who strikingly resembles a young version of the few photos we have of Victor H. Green. (See photos below in “Launching THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES”)
To research more history about Victor’s work as a letter carrier, Calvin Alexander Ramsey made key connections with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) union, first with Orlando Gonzalez in New York City, who then referred Calvin to Mike Shea, editor of the NALC national newsletter, based out of the organization’s headquarters in Washington, DC. According to an email to Ramsey from Shea in late July 2013, “Orlando found an old card in the New York branch files that showed that Victor Green was a member of NALC while working at the Post Office.”
This discovery set in motion a further search by Gonzalez, who wrote the following email shortly afterwards, confirming that while the Greens had lived and published the Green Books in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, Victor was employed as a letter carrier for many years in Hackensack, New Jersey. Gonzalez and his associates had located an NALC Memoriam from 1960 stating that Green was indeed an employee at the Hackensack location and had passed away that year. Orlando, Mike, and their colleagues at the NALC are developing numerous events and tributes to Victor Green and, as you can see in our News and Events Archives sidebar, invited Calvin to speak 8/26/13 at their national NALC meeting. We look forward to continuing these connections with our NALC friends and hope that when THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES is completed, our film can add to the tributes.
From Orlando Gonzalez:
Launching THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES
The first round of interviews in Atlanta featured people whose families had listings in the Green Book, used the Green Book to travel, and/or shared related Jim Crow era travel stories. (See photos below for details.) Filming continued in New York City, focusing on the Jacob Lawrence “Migration Series” at the Museum of Modern Art, with curator Leah Dickerman; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (division of the New York Public Library) with Associate Chief Librarian Maira Liriano featuring their collection of Green Books (known to be largest in existence); and several other locations in Harlem including legendary jazz club, Minton’s Playhouse, as well as exteriors of both Victor Green’s former publishing office and apartment (Green lived across the street from Duke Ellington). We were also thrilled to meet Ramona Green, niece by marriage of Victor Green, and her grandson, Brian Green. Ramona’s father-in-law, William, co-published the Green Books with his brother Victor, for a time early on.
Our New York shoot even included a surprise visit from Howard Glener, son of the printer of the Green Books from the 1930s-40s, who remembers meeting Victor Green as a child! Mr. Glener and his wife, Lyla, had read the New York Times article about our upcoming shoot at the Schomburg and made a point to find us so he could share his connections to Victor Green and the Green Books.
Above top: Director/Co-Producer Becky Wible Searles and Co-Producer Calvin Alexander Ramsey meet Ramona Green (niece by marriage of Victor Green) and Ramona’s grandson, Brian Green, before the shoot at the Schomburg Center; Lower left: Associate Chief Librarian Maira Liriano reviews the Schomburg’s extensive collection of Green Books with Becky; Lower right: Ramona and Brian see the Schomburg collection for the first time (photos by Jimmy Searles)
Left: Calvin prepares to interview Leah Dickerman, Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC about Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series”
Below: One of 60 paintings from Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series” at the Museum of Modern Art
Our original New York team consisted of Rob Niosi (Cinematography / Audio), Jimmy Searles (Assistant Producer / Research / Photography), and TJ Jones (Production Assistant) with post production in Atlanta by Zach White (Editor), Beau Jimenez (Audio), and John Peterson (Colorist). The “mapping Jim Crow” motion graphics segment was designed, directed, and animated by Kelly Turner with original music for the “Mapping Jim Crow” created by Hank Roberts and Tenzin of Lyra Music. Additional animation and artwork elements were developed by Kodi Bobo.
With the initial intention of creating a short film, this project was started in late summer of 2012 by several student teams, eventually totaling 30 students in TV Producing, Animation, and Motion Media courses at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Atlanta campus under Animation Professor Becky Wible Searles’ direction, with pro bono help from professionals: Professor James Arnold (SCAD Atlanta Film and TV / TV Producing), Jimmy E. Searles (Asssistant Producer / Research / Photography), Professor Sandro Imperato (SCAD Atlanta Motion Media), and Marty McPherson (Production Photography). The next year saw contributions by 25 students from the SCAD Atlanta Illustration department, coordinated by Professors Rick Lovell and Mike Lowery. The experience provided powerful “real world” subject matter for student assignments, aiming for completion of a short film. However, over time the tremendous out-pouring of more stories than we could ever imagine along with an explosion of interest in this subject called for a regrouping to support expanded production to a one hour film with professional crew…. which is where we are now
Scenes from THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES Initial Interview Sessions
ATLANTA and NEW YORK CITY
(Production Note: Many of the interviews are shot on green screen in a studio so that other backgrounds, such as photographs, maps, etc. can be added into the final composite, similar to techniques used for combining TV studio weather reporters with background maps and graphics)
Above: World War II veteran, Wilbert Verrett, and his wife, Dr. Joyce Verrett, talk about using the Green Book in 1964 to find Crosby’s Motel for their honeymoon in Pensacola, FL (photo by Jimmy E. Searles)
While shooting exteriors in Harlem, we met artist Paula Wynter, who asked us what we were doing. When we told her we were making a film about the Green Book, she said her family used it to travel & agreed to be interviewed on the spot! Her stories were so powerful we have been providing them as clips for Calvin’s radio interviews.
Left: Paula Wynter getting ready for her impromptu interview for the film with Calvin (photo by Jimmy E. Searles)
Above: SCAD TV Producing student, Bernard Jackson (Video Preview Development / Research), reviews and logs some of the over seven hours of initial interview footage to prepare for editing. On the left screen is Gary Kirksey speaking about his grandmother, Mary Jackson’s house in Alliance, Ohio that was listed as a tourist home in the Green Book. On the right screen, Curtis Graves, first African American Representative in the Texas State House since the late 1800’s, shares stories about using the Green Book from his father’s ESSO gas station to travel to Miami; You can see more about Curtis Graves’ personal stories in the “Spotlight: Curtis Graves tab above. (photo by Marty McPherson)
Above: Phillis Holliday talks about traveling internationally through her job at United Airlines in the 1960’s (photo by Jimmy E. Searles)
Above: Calvin Alexander Ramsey interviews Wellington Cox Howard II about his grandmother, Ethel Cox, who owned a home in Indianola, MS that was listed in the Green Book for tourists (photo by Marty McPherson)
Above: SCAD Atlanta TV Producing students taking a break in the SCAD TV production studio while assisting with interview shoots, audio recording, research, and logging over seven hours of initial footage for “The Green Book Chronicles”, supervised by Prof. James Arnold. From left to right: Morgan Dixon, Kelly Rose Magnusson, Lance White, Layla Harleston, David Howell, Bernard Jackson, and Ben Tincher (not pictured: Alejandra Morales) (photo by Becky Wible Searles)
Above: Completed animation still by SCAD Atlanta MFA Animation students, Jeff MacDonald and Daniele Paulet Ranieri, combining 2D rotoscoped animation with vintage postcards. (For more about this process, see the “Animation Behind-the-Scenes” tab)
Above: SCAD Atlanta MFA Animation students holding vintage postcards they used to create travel animation segments for “The Green Book Chronicles” as part of Prof. Becky Wible Searles’ “Drawing in Motion” course; From left to right back row: Zhou Quan (China), Chivaun Fitzpatrick, Jenna Zona, Ammar Nassri (Syria), Jeff MacDonald, Danielle Paulet Ranieri, and Colin Wheeler; From left to right, front row: Princy Peuse (India), Calvin Alexander Ramsey, and Seungbin Ahn (South Korea) (photo by Becky Wible Searles)
Above: SCAD Atlanta students take a break from editing, color correcting, and compositing backgrounds for the initial Video Preview interview segments in Motion Media Professor Alessandro Imperato’s “Cinematography and Editing” class; From left to right: Injae Lee (Korea), Britt Lyle II, Professor Alessandro Imperato, Reggie Harrison, and Evleen Huang (China) (not pictured: Sarah Shipman) (photo by Marty McPherson)
Above left: Production Photographer, Marty McPherson (photo by Jimmy E. Searles)
Above right: Jimmy E. Searles (Assistant Producer, Research, and Photography) works with Director/Co-Producer, Becky Wible Searles, to plan a segment edit (photo by Marty McPherson)
Above left: Sketch of Director Becky Wible Searles by SCAD Atlanta MFA Animation student, Tres Swygert / Above right: From SCAD Atlanta Film and TV / TV Producing, Professor James Arnold adjusts the video control panel for the interview shoots (photo by Marty McPherson)
Stay tuned for more pictures and updates! Your comments are welcome.