Lonely Planet Writer

NY Library digitizes mid-20th century travel guide for African Americans

The New York Public Library has digitized the Green Book, a travel guide series published between 1936 and 1966, listing hotels, restaurants, bars, gas stations and other places where African American travellers would be welcome.

Cover of the 1961 Green Book.
Cover of the 1961 Green Book. Image by NYPL Public Domain

As segregation continued in areas of the US, a postal worker named Victor Green published the guides to give African American travellers “information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable”, according to the 1949 introduction.

The guides were digitized by the library’s Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture. The NYPL Labs is also extracting the data so users can visualize what a trip would be like for African American travellers in those time periods. After entering a starting point and a destination, the user can see what places would be available pinpointed on the map.

Cover of the 1948 Green Book.
Cover of the 1948 Green Book. Image by NYPL Public Domain

A NPYL blog post notes that the 1949 book’s introduction ends with the following: “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. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year”.

Publication of the books continued until two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

The New York Public Library has recently released 180,000 out-of-copyright images into its online digital collection.

Read copies of the Green Book and try the trip visualizer here.

Read more: Instagram accounts for African American travellers identify new market