The history behind the Green Book in the Capital Region

Special Reports

Imagine piling your family into your car and heading out on vacation, always anxious about where you will stay or where you can gas up.

That is exactly what life was like for African Americans in the era of segregation, even here in New York.  They didn’t know if they would be allowed to stay at a motel, eat in a restaurant or use a restroom.  So the Negro Motorist Green book was born.

You may have never seen the book before but for African American families, it was a staple in their cars for decades, keeping them safe when they traveled and saving them from humiliation!

“They took one look at you, they don’t like what they see and they say, ‘Oh I’m sorry we just rented the last room.’”

Dr. Gretchen Sorin wrote her dissertation at UAlbany on the Negro Motorist Green Book, a book filled with guest homes, gas stations, beauty parlors, and barber shops where African Americans were welcome, including many right here in the Capital Region.

A home located on Ten Broeck Place in Albany was in the book for years, once known as Mrs. McWilliams tourist home. It was one of many guest homes run by African American women.

Click here for a list of Green Map locations.

“In the south, it is interesting because there are signs. Jim Crow signs that say colored only and whites only. In the north, you don’t have any of those signs.”

But you did find discrimination.

“You didn’t want to go up to a motel and have them say we just rented the last room. Or we don’t rent to colored people here.”

So Victor Green published the first Green Book in New York City in 1936 filled with places for African Americans to sleep, eat and gas up.

“Many gas stations wouldn’t allow African Americans to use their restroom. So you could buy gas but you can’t go to the bathroom.”

One gas station was the exception.

Esso made it a corporate policy to welcome African Americans and soon they were advertising in the Green Book.

The old gas station once here on Lark Street in Albany was the only one listed in the Green Book for the Capital Region. Imagine needing to fill up and hoping you can make it to this gas station in time.

“I think that is the reason for a guide like this. It helps you to feel safe but it also helped you to not feel humiliation when you went on the road.”

In 1964, when the civil rights legislation was passed, the need for the Negro Motorist Green Book faded and the book stopped publication in 1966.

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