Green Book Entry 2: July 21st- August 6th

July 21st-August 6th

After my trip to DC, I spent the next few days researching in Swem and trying to find articles that supported my ideas. At the time, I only had vague notions of what I was looking for. The wealth of information had almost become a burden and made the project more difficult rather than easier. However, one question kept coming up over and over again. “Why was the Green Book typically used by the middle class?” I wanted a better explanation than the recent growth in consumption of automobiles. I felt that this was only part of the answer. African Americans had been migrating from the South since the late 1800s and especially after WWI. Why did the Green Book and other guides become popular in the 1930s?

With these questions still swirling around in my head, I boarded the train heading to Greensboro, NC. I chose Greensboro for several reasons including its connections to the Civil Rights Movement (Woolworth Diner sit-ins), the International Civil Rights Museum located in downtown Greensboro, and finally this museum contains an authentic copy of the Green Book. These books are very rare to find and I could not pass up an opportunity to see an actual edition rather than continue to read through a pdf file.

I was not as successful in my endeavors to find the original addresses from the Green Book as I was in DC. The district that primarily consisted of African American businesses and homes had recently been reconstructed. A museum tour guide, an African American woman who grew up in Greensboro, explained to me that it was a part of urban renewal. Although, this part of my trip was a bust, my conversation with the tour guide was the key to forming my final thesis. We spoke about Greensboro, the sit-ins, and the Green Book. I explained my project and the roadblock that I had recently hit in regards to the middle class phenomenon. My tour guide had the answer. Prior to the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans did not travel as much. The automobile played a large part in the necessity for the travel guide, however the car was only half of the story. The other half was leisure and vacation. After WWI, more rising-middle class African Americans purchased automobiles and participated in leisure-travel, something that was previously unavailable to most of the black population. The travel guide became an asset as African Americans traveled to places other than their hometowns or homes of relatives and friends. The tour guide continued to explain that any travel done before WWI was primarily between towns and visiting family. This type of travel did not require a national guide because African Americans used “kin-networks” or word of mouth. They knew the safe locations either through recommendations or prior knowledge.

After this conversation, my project started to fall into place. I was excited to see my work finally take the form of a logical thesis. I wanted to focus on the African American middle class. How did the middle class use the travel guide? Was it a form of protest, a survival tactic, or both? With vacationing and travel, another response to Jim Crow laws was the establishment of black owned hotels and guest homes. How did these fit into the grand scheme of things? Before this summer, I did not expect my project to focus on the middle class. I wanted to collect oral history and look into the resistance and protest associated with the travel guide. Despite the twists and turns, I am completely thrilled with my project. I have connected the values of middle-class African Americans during the early 1900s (through articles, diaries, and primary sources), middle class purchasing power as a form of resistance and protest amongst middle-class African Americans, and the Green Book. These three parts function together similar to a flow chart: African American middle-class values encouraged the use of their purchasing power as a form of protest against Jim Crow laws while the Green Book assisted in exercising this purchasing power and thus the protest against discrimination and segregation in America.

Comments

  1. I can totally relate to the sometimes overwhelming scope of the literature. At times it’s exciting and at others daunting, but I’m glad you’ve been successful in your navigation both within and outside of Swem. Your topic seems extremely interesting and I wish you the best of luck!

  2. crshermer says:

    Your thesis is clear and concise. I could easily follow it – and more importantly, it makes common sense, a fact that I think is often a sure sign you’ve hit on something good. What would be interesting, perhaps as a follow-up, is looking into why the post-WWI era brought more African Americans into the middle class – were more jobs available to them because of their service in the war? I realize your research was primarily aimed at the Green Book itself, so this question is sort of an adjunct thought.

  3. Lauren Coleman says:

    This sounds like a really cool project. It is interesting to hear how African Americans were able to use travel and purchasing power to make a statement against segregation and Jim Crow laws. When I was doing my research project on National Parks in the Shenandoah, I learned about a vacation site called Lewis Mountain where middle class African American families could go camping. After reading your blog and thinking back to my own research, it seems probable that African Americans at that time were using travel even in more remote mountainous areas, to empower themselves and make a statement against discrimination.