ABOUT OUR FILM
THE GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES:
Connecting with Victor Green’s Travel Guides During Jim Crow
This one hour 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. The books were expanded in later years to include international destinations and renamed “The Negro Travelers Green Book” with Green’s wife, Alma eventually taking on the leadership role.
Directed and co-produced by Becky Wible Searles in six locations around the U.S. (Atlanta, Birmingham AL, NYC, Washington DC, Newark NJ, and Myrtle Beach SC), the live interviews are woven around motion media and animation segments reflecting travel graphics and social issues from 1936-66/67, 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 2019 with the help of grants, sponsorship, and private donations. (See our DONATE tab above for more information.)
Victor H. Green published the Green Books between 1936 and 1966/67 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 African-Americans 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 including 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.
For more about the connections between the Green Books, ESSO gas stations, and the U. S. Post Office, visit our “Stories and Histories” tab above, including personal family reflections by one of our interviewees, Curtis Graves. See “Scenes from the GREEN BOOK CHRONICLES Interview Sessions” below for more about some of the many other stories shared with us.
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 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 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 honored 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.
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 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 gets ready 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 (Research / Photography), and TJ Jones (Production Assistant) with post production in Atlanta by Zach White (Editor), Beau Jimenez (Audio), and John Peterson (Colorist). Original music for the “Mapping Jim Crow” animation was created by Hank Roberts and Tenzin of Lyra Music. Additional animation and artwork elements are currently in progress by Atlanta artist/animator, Kodi Bobo, and motion graphics artist, Kelly Turner.
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 (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.
Above: Calvin Alexander Ramsey and his award-winning children’s book (photo by Calvin Alexander Ramsey)
Calvin Ramsey’s creative journey with the Green Book began when he wrote a fictional stage play by the same name that premiered to sellout audiences at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit (www.theatricaloutfit.org). The play was named a finalist in the 12th Annual Last Frontier Theater Conference in Valdez, Alaska, in June 2004 where it was critiqued by theatrical luminaries such as Edward Albee and Patricia Neal. Further readings were staged at La MaMa E.T.C. in New York, directed by George Ferencz and Baltimore Hebrew University, co-sponsored by the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Civil rights leader, Julian Bond, was included in a cameo role as Victor Green when the play moved on to a reading at the restored Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC.
Translating the material for a younger audience, Ramsey wrote his award-winning children’s book, “Ruth and the Green Book”, with illustrations by Floyd Cooper. In 2012, Jon Ludwig, Artistic Director of Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, collaborated with Calvin to turn the children’s book into a theatrical production at CPA that combined live actors, puppets, and animation, including original music by S. Renee Clark and a video-taped afterword by Georgia’s Congressman John Lewis (www.puppet.org/perform/ruthgreenbook.shtml).
Becky took a large group of SCAD Atlanta Animation students to see “Ruth and the Green Book” at the Center for Puppetry Arts, met Calvin, and invited him to come speak to students at SCAD about being an author and playwright. Eventually Calvin asked Becky, “Any interest in making a short documentary together interviewing people I know who have used the Green Book?” and she happily answered, “Sure, as long as we can include some animation!”
Becky grew up in northern Ohio, hearing that family ancestors had owned a tavern on Lake Erie that was a stop on the Underground Railway, sparking a life-long interest in Civil Rights stories. She owned her own production company in New York City for 14 years, specializing in clay, stop motion, and mixed-media animation, often combining it with live action for clients such as Nickelodeon, National Geographic, AT&T, Showtime, and Kool-Aid and can be seen on camera in two episodes of the PBS series “Reading Rainbow”. She has been a professor of animation at SCAD, first for 7 years in Savannah and since 2009 on the Atlanta campus. She is also a mixed-media artist whose work was shown at the Whitney Museum in New York City in 2017 and collaborates with her husband, Jimmy, recently forming Piktoglyph LLC for a variety of art, film, and writing projects.
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, 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 “Stories and Histories” 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 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 students, Jeff MacDonald and Daniele Paulet, 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, and Colin Wheeler; From left to right, front row: Princy Peuse (India), Calvin 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, chats after the shoot with Ambassador Theo Britton (photo by Jimmy E. Searles)
Above right: Jimmy E. Searles (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.