Today’s adults may still remember when the internet, social media, Skype, and Twitter weren’t even in existence, much less affordable and available to virtually everyone. But first-hand memory of “those days” will fade in the not-too-distant future.
Worldwide communication webs were once far-fetched, even crazy notions, coming from sci-fi writers or other dreamers. Yet long before those visions of technology, humans persistently invented various practical ways to connect to distant others, using whatever resources were available in that time and place.
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 WWI veteran and then 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. His wife, Alma D. Green, appears to have actively supported and been involved in this venture from the start, eventually taking over as editor when Victor stepped away from that role.
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.
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 the specific person, Victor H. Green, original editor/publisher of “The Negro Motorist’s/Traveler’s Green Book”… 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 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: