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The Green Book: Then and Now

Posted at 3:14 PM, Aug 04, 2020

From 1936 until 1966 The Green Book was published annually as a guide to safe places for black people to travel, dine, and recreate. There are several locations still around in Maryland and some sites still in use. We visited a few of those locations and brought history to light.

First on our journey was the Makel Home in Fredrick​, Md. It was listed as a tourist home from 1938 until 1966. Black people who weren’t allowed to stay at “White Only” hotels could look up a town and find a name in the Green Book that would offer them a safe place to stay.

Dee Jenkins, of the Executive Board of the African American Resources of Cultural Heritage Society, says The Green Book was life changing for traveling African Americans.

“It was important because they called it a vacation without aggravation. For us to be able to travel freely and to avoid any run-ins with police or just to be safe. It was more of a safety feature for African Americans to travel at that time. Travel for African Americans was probably very scary just because of all of the hate, living in Jim Crow, coming out of the slavery era and what happened. Once we began to acquire wealth and there was no giving back to the Masters, we began to buy Autos and that’s why Mr. Green came up with the Green Book . So once we started traveling we saw that there was barriers. It was really a necessity for African Americans to be able to ride through the country freely just like everybody else does. Without riding on the train without using the bus services. It was a necessity for us to live in the US and do it safely,”. said Jenkins

A few blocks away from the Makel home we found, Buddy's Barber Shop, another site listed in The Green Book.

Buddy's uncle opened up the shop at 22 West All Saints in 1955 but from 1922 to 1947 it was the home and art studio of William and Esther Grinage. William was most known for his portrait of Francis Scott Key and Esther as one of the first African American teachers in Fredrick.

Before we arrived, Buddy had no idea that his Barbershop was once a safe haven for African Americans looking for a place to stay,

“Its nice to know that there is all this history here in All Saints. This street was predominately black in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Now there’s only the guy across the street and myself. We’re the only two owners that I know of,“ said Bernard “Buddy” Hill.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Blacks were given the freedom to shop and stay wherever they pleased. As black people joined the broader community, the once sole option of supporting black owned businesses became a second thought. As racial tensions have risen, the push to buy black has returned, sparking a New Age Green Book.

“So I think the Green Book of yesterday was a really, really good example of how Black folks used their experiences to create something, to support them in mobility. At its core the Green Book was a tool to identify safe places to go, safe places to stop, business that were welcoming to them. And we see that today just in a very different form. Folks are on Instagram, Facebook, creating groups saying "Hey, this black owned". I’m looking for Black therapist, I’m looking for Black snowballs right, where can I go? I’m looking for businesses who are supporting Black Lives Matter… And so it’s a really good example of how we without even knowing tapped into this agency and activism. What was a Green Book and taken the mediums and channels we’ve come to know today, social media, the internet and created a new,” said Brittany Harris, Equity Consultant.

Kezia Williams is the CEO of Black Up Start and the lead organizer for My Black Receipt. Using her social media platforms, she's created a road map for how to buy Black and started a movement that's gone viral.

“My Black Receipt started in response to the civil unrest that unfolded after George Floyd’s murder. A lot of people were asking what could be the response to push the needle in regards to change… we we’re like we need to support Black entrepreneurs. But we knew that whatever solution we wanted to implement was a solution we didn’t want to happen overnight but rather over time, so we said why not try a buy Black movement. We knew that buy Black movements in the past had always been a response to corporate misbehavior so putting black boy perhaps in a t-shirt that said coolest monkey in the jungle or treating black men like criminals and not like customers at Starbucks and we said if we do it again, it has to be sustainable and it has to be measurable. So when folks are like buy Black and people go and buy from a Black owned business, it’s like can we actually quantify that collective impact,” said Williams.

One business that has been on the receiving end of My Black Receipt's success is Calabash Tea and Tonic.

“It's been amazing. Our business has shot up maybe 400 percent in terms of online orders. People coming to us and saying look I need to pick up my tea right away. I need to do something about my nervous system. So what we appreciate is people supporting us as a Black owned business and we appreciate being able to support them too," said Owner Sunyatta Amen.

Creole Soul is a fairly new Black owned restaurant that has gotten lots of buzz on social media.

“Thinking back to the days of my great grand mother and great grandfather growing up in the South, not having the opportunity to have a business of their own. It’s important because you know we’ve waited and our folks have fought so long for an opportunity like this. And if we don’t seize this moment and take this opportunity then its like what was the fight for? It’s my obligation, it’s our obligation as African Americans to make sure that we are surpassing the expectations of our grandmothers and grandfathers and those who have gone before us and fought this good fight for us to have these civil and equal rights that we’re lavishing in today. Unfortunately, we’re not all the way there yet. We still have a whole lot of challenges ahead of us, but I do believe in the fact of us circulating our black dollars. I’ve had plenty of talks with a lot of entrepreneurs. That Black Wall Street mentality is really what I would like to see for us once again," said Chef Que, Co-owner of Creole Soul.

The 1948 edition of Victor Green's Green Book began, “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

That publication has ended and a new one has begun. There is still much work to be done and we hope you'll join us on the journey.