Victor Green, the Post Office, and the Spirit of Connecting

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At this moment, most adults can probably remember when the likes of the internet, social media, Skype, and Twitter weren’t even in existence, much less affordable and available to  virtually everyone… and first-hand memory of “those days” will be unimaginable in the not terribly distant future.

Imagining universal webs of worldwide communication has been a far-fetched and perhaps crazy notion, coming from folks who were visionaries, sci-fi writers, or other dreamers. Yet humans have invented practical ways that they could connected, using whatever they had to work with at the time.

Facing the harsh realities of Jim Crow in 1936, Victor H. Green made a constructive decision that he put into action for nearly 30 years: connect like-minded people by promoting safe and enjoyable travel for African-Americans throughout the United States, and eventually the world, by publishing travel guides. As a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office for over 40 years, he ingeniously used his network of contacts throughout the country to gradually develop lists of motels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that would welcome African-American patronage. The early editions focused on New York City where he initially sold them for a quarter at ESSO gas stations.

More listings and features were added over time to include Green’s 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. 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. Both black and white-owned businesses ran advertisements in the Green Books, selling a variety of products in addition to travel services.

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Above: Pages from the 1955 “Negro Traveler’s Green Book” highlighting the midnight radio show, “Big Joe’s Happiness Exchange”, and ads for Victor 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)

At this writing, there is very little known, at least publicly, about the specific person, Victor H. Green, publisher of “The Negro Motorist’s/Traveler’s Green Book” from 1936-67… 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 Mr. Green. 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 was Brian Green, Ramona’s grandson who strikingly resembles  a young version of the one photo we have of Victor H. Green.

Calvin Ramsey recently 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 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 Green lived and published the “Green Books” in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, he was employed as a letter carrier for many years in Hackensack, New Jersey:

“PAYDIRT! Couldn’t be HAPPIER! Glad it wasn’t to good to be true. We have to thank Jeff Fox, Bruce Didriksen and Anibal ‘Sonny’ Guadalupe for their persistence with this. Sonny pointed out that we should look in the Postal Record Memoriams for proof. When we saw a ‘1964?’ as year of death we decided to go through year by year forward and backward and sure enough we found this.”
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. Calvin speculates that Green’s daughter probably continued publishing the “Green Books” until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, as her father would have wished. 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 sidebar, invited Calvin to speak 8/26/13 (the day I write this!) at their national NALC meeting! We look forward to continuing these connections with our new NALC friends and hope that when “The Green Book Chronicles” is completed, our film can add to the tributes.
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Interestingly, to date none of Victor’s Green’s family members that we know of have come forward to share further information and no researchers have been able to locate any of his relatives. However, just this week, Calvin made a new connection to someone whose deceased sister apparently worked for the Green Book organization in New York and we will certainly share any new information when we can verify it.
In the meantime, if you know anyone from Victor Green’s family or who worked with him, please connect with us at the email addresses listed in the sidebar. We certainly want to honor and respect Green’s descendants and colleagues as we celebrate his dedication to connecting people around the world!

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NEWS and EVENTS

December 2016: Shooting completed in NYC, including interviews with cultural documentarian, Candacy Taylor, Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; musicologist Dr. Al Vollmer, leader/founder of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band; and Smitty’s Esso Service Station in Newark, NJ, owned by African-Americans since the 1930’s.

Watch this space for upcoming presentations by Calvin Ramsey and other events related to “The Green Book Chronicles”

News and Events ARCHIVE

July 14, 2016 “Reflections on the Green Book” at the MARCH ON WASHINGTON FILM FESTIVAL, US Navy Museum, Washington DC 6:30 – 9:00pm; Panel includes Calvin Alexander Ramsey and screening of new 20:00 Work-in-Progress excerpt from “The Green Book Chronicles”

May 31, 2016: Calvin Ramsey nominated for the NAACP NYCHA Just R.E.A.D. (Recognize Education Achieves Destiny) Literacy Development Endeavor Award for “Ruth and the Green Book”; Ceremony and celebration at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYC July 7, 2016

May 14, 2016: Fundraiser for “The Green Book Chronicles” sponsored by the Len Ragozin Foundation, NYC

April 2016: Calvin Ramsey and “The Green Book Chronicles” are featured in an article in Smithsonian Magazine by Jacinda Townsend: “How the Green Book Helped African-Americans Navigate a Segregated Nation” http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/history-green-book-african-american-travelers-180958506/

February 12, 2016: “The Green Book Chronicles” received a production grant from the Len Ragozin Foundation, NYC

December 3, 2015: Calvin Ramsey was interviewed on the WUNC public radio show, “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/green-book-chronicleshttp://wunc.org/post/green-book-chronicles

August 7, 2015: NEW YORK TIMES article by Eve M. Kahn featuring “The Green Book Chronicles”: “The ‘Green Book’ Legacy: A Beacon for Black Travelers” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/design/the-green-book-legacy-a-beacon-for-black-travelers.html?_r=0

August 6-9, 2015: NYC Interviews and Location Shooting for “The Green Book Chronicles” including the Jacob Lawrence “One Way Ticket” Show at the Museum of Modern Art; The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and Minton’s

February 18, 2015: Calvin Ramsey presented progress on “The Green Book Chronicles” at the Brooklyn Historical Society (6:30pm)

January 18, 2015 (MLK Holiday): Calvin Ramsey reading of “Ruth and the Green Book” and book signing at the New York Historical Society, NYC

December 7, 2015: Calvin Ramsey presentation at the Stanford L. Warren Library, Durham, NC

July 19, 2015 NEW YORK TIMES Travel Section: Feature article about Calvin Ramsey and the Green Book projects with the online version released 7/14/15

January 21, 2014: Calvin Ramsey presentation at the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, Bronx, NY

January 19, 2014: Calvin Ramsey at the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC “Created Equal: Freedom Riders” film and guest speakers

August 13 – September 2, 2013: USA Today Special Edition about the March on Washington includes articles about the Green Book and Calvin Ramsey / See complete text in “Stories & Histories” above

September 1, 2013: Calvin Ramsey presentation at the Studio Museum in Harlem “Target Free Sundays: Books and Authors, Kids!” / 144 West 125th Street, New York, NY 10027 studiomuseum.org

August 28, 2013: Article about Calvin Ramsey in the Washington Post: www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/road-guide-for-african-american-civil-rights-activists-pointed-way-to-1963-march/2013/08/27/1085a2c4-0f64-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html

August 26, 2013 @ 6:00 pm: Calvin Ramsey presentation at the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) honoring Victor Green / 100 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

June 8, 2013: Calvin Ramsey interviewed on NPR’s “Travel with Rick Steves” / Archive available at www.ricksteves.com/radio/program-archives.cfm

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