99% Invisible – The Green Book

99-300Episode: 201 – The Green Book

Series: 99% Invisible

Release Date: 2/23/2016
Producer: Delaney Hall

Episode Link: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-green-book/

Tags: History, Race, Movement, Car, Post-WW2, Civil Rights, Travel, African American history, Segregation, Tourism, 1940s, 1950s


Informational/Overview Provides overview of the origin of the Negro Motorist’s Green Book – a travel guide for African Americans during post-WW2 Jim Crow America. It situates this guide within the context of the rise of car culture and the Civil Rights Movement.

Notes: Kera Lovell: At 13:30, it provides a brief excerpt of questions posed by NAACP activist Roy Wilkins to white politicians, intended to make them think critically about how they had freedom to travel more so than African Americans or Jews. It is a really brief but powerful list of questions that can be asked of students prior to listening to the podcast to similarly get them to think critically about their own freedom of movement today, as well as how the movement of others might be limited (due to race, language, religion, gender, etc.)

Sources like these collected on the 99% Invisibilia website linked above. Left: an African-American family with their new Oldsmobile in Washington, D.C., 1955; Right: Victor H. Green, 1956 (both images in public domain via Wikipedia)

Assignment Ideas:

1) Primary Source Analysis: The podcast can be paired with an exercise requiring students to peruse/analyze a digitized copy of a Green Book found here through the New York Public Library: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-green-book#/?tab=about

2) Film + Podcast Combo: The podcast can accompany the PBS documentary Freedom Riders, found for free on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66_kqSG6aHI Additionally, the podcast can accompany a viewing/analysis of the 2018 film Green Book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Book_(film)

3) Secondary Source Analysis: The podcast can accompany an excerpt from James Loewen’s Sundown Towns. His website is an incredible resource for exploring the legacy of sundown towns: https://sundown.tougaloo.edu/sundowntowns.php

4) Other Ideas: Check our Larry Cebula‘s overview of teaching the Green Book. Cebula is an Assistant Digital Archivist at the Washington State Archives and Associate Professor of History at Eastern Washington University. In this overview of teaching the topic, he compares this episode of 99% Invisible with an episode on the same topic by the podcast series The Memory Palace titled, “Open Road,” and suggests comparing the two is a good comparative exercise for public history. In addition, he outlines his instructions for having students map their own trip online. Check it out: http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/2019/02/short-lesson-green-book-or-driving.html


Potential Reflection Questions:

1) What businesses or locations are listed in the Green Book and what do the types of businesses and locations in the directory reflect about segregation in post-World War America?

2) Reflect on how the Green Book can be adapted for marginalized groups today. What might a Green Book for a marginalized group of your choice might look like today? Explain why you choose that marginalized group and provide specific evidence (newspaper articles, books, interviews, etc.) to provide three specific locations that might be listed in the book, including at least one site to avoid and one site to access.


Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Negro_Motorist_Green_Book

Book: James Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism: https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-American/dp/0743294483/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1545962261&sr=8-6&keywords=negro+motorist+green+book

Book: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration: https://books.google.com/books?id=dt6JDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22green+book%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiPgozVtsHfAhXPHTQIHQgDB1o4ChDoAQgpMAA

Suggestions from others:Larry Cebula also recommends these two sources as mentioned on his teaching overview of this topic here:

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