The Negro Motorist Green Book 1

The Negro Motorist Green Book

  • Dates:
    Mar 19 - Jun 12 2022
  • Ages:
    All ages
  • Where:
    Fifth floor
  • Tickets:

    Purchase tickets at the museum’s admissions desk or online.

  • Accessibility:

    The History Museum has elevators and ramps. Wheelchairs are available on-site.

The Negro Motorist Green Book
March 19 – June 12, 2022
From the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service

WHEN THE FIRST GREEN BOOK WAS PUBLISHED in 1936, the American road was a metaphor for freedom. Freedom to change your present situation, freedom to determine your destiny, freedom to travel. Yet, in 20th century America, this same road was a dangerous place for Black citizens. The land was divided by segregation—through policy or through custom. If you were Black, the prejudice was severe: a systematic effort to deny access to your basic human rights. Imagine the indignity of government-backed and socially-normalized oppression. Imagine the pain, the violence, the disrespect. And yet and still, African Americans created destinations and strategies that affirmed their humanity, their worth, their light, and took to the roads.

It was done with ingenuity, with community, and with the help of a Harlem postman named Victor Green.

“…the traveling was and wasn’t fun…We couldn’t eat in the restaurants in the South and so we had to go in the market to get what you called ‘souse’ [hogshead cheese] and white saltine crackers. But listen, darling, I loved souse…That was fun. We’d laugh right on down the highway and still have a good time.”

— ARETHA FRANKLIN, vocalist, composer/arranger, and civil rights activist

“The Green Book” travel guide was created by Victor Green to provide African American travelers with critical information on restaurants, gas stations, department stores, accommodations, and other businesses that welcomed Black travelers during the era of Jim Crow and “sundown towns.” Published annually through 1967, the national guide’s rich history is highlighted in the multimedia exhibition, The Negro Motorist Green Book. This exhibition was curated by Candacy Taylor, one of the nation’s leading Green Book scholars and an award-winning author, photographer, and documentarian.

Visitors will get an immersive look at the reality of travel for African Americans in mid-century America, and how The Green Book served as an indispensable resource for the nation’s rising African American middle class. You’ll be transported back to a time when, if you were Black, it took bravery and a Green Book to cross the country safely; explore film, photographs, art installations, interactives, and oral histories from travelers and Green Book business owners; compare Green Book sites then and now; and appreciate historical objects from the Smithsonian and from a variety of Green Book sites. You’ll understand not only the apprehension felt by African American travelers, but also the resilience, innovation, and elegance of people choosing to live a full American existence. The exhibition also brings into focus the vibrant parallel world of African American businesses, the rise of the Black leisure class, and the important role “The Green Book” played in facilitating the second wave of the Great Migration is brought into view.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with Candacy Taylor and made possible through the generous support of Exxon Mobil Corporation. ExxonMobil’s predecessor, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, distributed “The Green Book” through its U.S. network of Esso stations, helping to provide motorists and their families opportunities for safer and more comfortable travel.

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom – An evening with filmmaker Yoruba Richen 1

This exhibition has been locally supported by ArtsFund, Humanities Washington, and KNKX Public Radio. 

Image credit: Four young African American women standing beside a convertible automobile, ca. 1958. Courtesy WANN Radio Station Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Testimonials
  • “You’ve got a treasure here!”
    - Doug Gates, WSHS member
  • "Painful but powerful. So delighted to see Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Joe Lewis, so memorable. I love every picture, just beautiful."
    - Beverly Cobb Zahir, Volunteer
The Negro Motorist Green Book 4

Beauty salon objects. Courtesy of the Mosaiac Templars Cultural Center, Little Rock, Arkansas. Photo by James Kegley.

We’re bringing the nation’s top Green Book scholars to Tacoma! Great programs created by our colleagues at the Black Heritage Society of Washington State! Details at links below.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with Candacy Taylor and made possible through the generous support of Exxon Mobil Corporation. This exhibition has been locally supported by ArtsFund, Humanities Washington, and KNKX Public Radio. Public programming for the exhibition is supported by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Green Book programs logo collage

 

We’re delighted to share these additional resources from libraries and organizations in Washington, plus links to the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) resources related to this exhibition.
  • Go for a walk and explore Seattle’s Green Book sites while you’re at it! Check out Black & Tan Hall’s Seattle Green Book self-guided walking tour! Download their app and hit the pavement.

The Negro Motorist Green Book 3

Seattle Green Book tour

  • Share your Green Book story! SITES is building an archive of stories from people who used The Green Book in their travels, stopped at or visited Green Book sites on road trips, or had other personal experiences related to The Green Book. If you have one of those stories, you can share it with SITES and add it to their archive! You can also share it on social and look for other Green Book stories with #SmithsonianGreenBookStories and #MyGreenBookStory.

My Green Book story

  • Love to read? Check out these excellent Green Book reading lists:

SITES companion Books

Seattle Public Library

Tacoma Public Library Reading Lists and Resources:

The Roots of Black Travel in America

The Green Book’s Fiction

    • Did you know that Tacoma had its own Green Book? From the Northwest Room’s local history archives: The Green Book Directory by the Tacoma City Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc., circa 1967
    • Check out a museum pass from Tacoma Public Library for free admission to the Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibition at Washington State History Museum. Passes are available at all Tacoma Public Library locations on a first-come, first-served basis.

New York Public Library

  • Learn more about the history of African Americans in Washington State with the Black Heritage Society

The Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc. was first proposed in 1977 and became incorporated in 1982. Preserving, collecting and sharing the history of African Americans in Washington State are the priorities that shape the BHS mission. BHS collections are a protected resource and public asset that archives the past and present to inform the future. The Society recognizes the importance for documenting the culture and heritage of Black people statewide, and advocates for saving places to uphold the notion that Washington State history is an essential link in the broader narrative that defines the story of our nation.

The Black Heritage Society created the public programs for this exhibition in collaboration with the Washington State Historical Society. See programs under the “Programs and Events” tab.

Check out the Black Heritage Society!

Another great source the Tacoma Urban League.

Tacoma Urban League

  • SITES has great resources for you to dive deep into this subject: 

SITES online Resources and Bibliography

More at the History Museum