I GREW up eavesdropping on all manner of serpentine stories about road travel.
Drive at night. Drive all the way through. Don’t dare talk to anyone.
As much as I love to explore, I knew that this came with risks. Writer and photographer Candacy Taylor’s deeply researched and important new book, “The Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America ” examines the fraught territory of the open-road for black travelers. Taylor’s book connects the dots between Jim Crow segregation, redlining to present-day racial and socio-economic disparity. It is an impassioned plea for present-day activism; a call to revisit these sites that once symbolized freedom and power, and build on the history of hope.
I review the book for the Los Angeles Times.
From my piece:
Publisher Victor Hugo Green, a black mail carrier in New York with a seventh-grade education, said he’d come to the idea while observing a Jewish friend consult a kosher guide to plan a vacation in the Catskills. Taylor, however, suspects a more complex origin story. Green, who also managed the career of his musician brother-in-law, had no doubt absorbed stories about the travails of securing safe accommodations on the road; those anecdotes would have been influential as well.
Green teamed up with fellow postal worker George I. Smith to create the guide. “The first edition was only ten pages,” writes Taylor, “but it was a mighty weapon in the face of segregation.” Green’s brother, William, later joined Victor and his wife, Alma, to produce the guide out of their Harlem home.
At the outset, 80% of the listings were clustered in traditionally African American communities, including Harlem, Chicago’s Bronzeville and Los Angeles’ black enclaves stipulated by racial housing covenants and held in place for decades by redlining. The “Green Book” became a trusted brand and an emotional touchstone due to Green’s vision, grit and stamina and the guide’s consistency and reliability.
You can click here to read the rest.