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Historic 'Green Book' Saved Lives Nationwide, Locally

The Negro Motorist Green Book, as it was called, was a lifesaver for African-American travelers from 1936 to 1967.

Jim Crow laws in the South outlined where blacks could safely eat and shop and stay for the night, but out west, the rules were hazy.

Ironically, the lack of segregation laws could be more dangerous for black travelers, because they didn’t know where they would be welcome.

That’s where the Green Book came in, listing safe spaces for black people, including a handful in Las Vegas.

“The Green Book was really a saving grace for blacks on the road,” Candacy Taylor, who is working on a multimedia project about the book, told KNPR's State of Nevada.

She said at the time the Green Book was used, there were thousands of towns around the country known as "sundown towns," which meant that black people had to be out before the sun went down. 

“You could be lynched,” Taylor said. 

Beside violence and possibly death, Taylor said if blacks didn't know which restaurants, gas stations or even hair stylists were safe, they would be left without needed services.

Many of the travelers were moving to another state, while others were just tourists. Taylor said the Green Book allowed blacks to travel the country without fear. 

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“It gave black people freedom to be just Americans,” she said.

The book was created by Victor Green, a postal worker from New York City, who had seen a similar book for Jewish travelers. 

Through a network of other postal workers, Green was able to collect information for every state, Canada and Mexico. A traveler could look up any state they were in to find a hotel, tavern, garage or even real estate offices that served African Americans.  

In Las Vegas, Taylor has identified four locations: The Jackson Hotel, Carver House Cove, West Motel and Shaw Apartment Tourist Home.

Unfortunatey, none are still standing. 

UNLV historian Claytee White said many of the sites listed in the book were white-owned businesses in the historic West Las Vegas neighborhood, which was predominately African-American.

The Green Book's usefulness started to wane as civil rights laws changed in the 1960s and anti-discrimination laws were enforced. 

Taylor is traveling the country photographing as many of the businesses as she can before they disappear. She's traveled more than 15,000 miles already. Her books will be out in 2019.

 

Guests

Candacy Taylor, fellow, Harvard University; Claytee White, historian, UNLV