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'Green Book' project now seeking information

Barker, Carrie 09.04.2018.jpg

Carrie Barker

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By Carrie Barker
Museum of the Albemarle

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Last year, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a two-year project: “Green Books’ Oasis Spaces: African American Travel in NC, 1936-1966.”

Their goal is to document the 327 North Carolina sites listed in the Green Book and to create an online database, facilitate community discussions, and develop traveling exhibits highlighting the history of the Green Book.

Unfamiliar with the Green Book? The Negro Motorist Green Book, as it was originally titled, was an important companion to African-American travelers in the era of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Traveling was not simple — or even safe — for African Americans as restaurants, hotels, service stations, rest area bathrooms (and occasionally entire towns) were often off-limits. Black travelers carefully planned their trips ahead of time, packing food, cans of gasoline, sometimes portable toilets to navigate the country’s systemic racism.

Recognizing the need in the African-American community for safe, reliable services while traveling, New York City mailman and WWI veteran, Victor Green, began collecting information on businesses friendly to African Americans. The result, The Negro Motorist Green Book, was first published in 1936.

The Green Book listed businesses that welcomed African American clientele — everything from hotels and service stations to pharmacies and beauty parlors. It was available for sale at places like black churches and Esso gas stations, and was updated annually except during WWII.

Initially only covering New York City,  Green quickly expanded the publication to include all of the U.S. by recruiting help from his readers and fellow mailmen to compile accurate listings. It was a very successful early form of crowd-sourcing.  Green soon retired from the postal service to focus on publishing the Green Book. At its height in popularity, 20,000 Green Books were printed annually, but the successes of the civil rights movement, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, lessened the need for the Green Book and the last edition was published in 1966.

The “Oasis Spaces” project is ambitious. Out of the 327 listings in North Carolina, only about 65 sites are believed to be still standing and another 45 sites are currently undetermined.

Two Elizabeth City businesses were included in the Green Book. This was unlikely a comprehensive list of Elizabeth City businesses welcoming African-American clientele, but simply what was brought to the editor’s attention.

The service station “Small’s” was listed from 1951 to 1955, located at the corner of Roanoke Ave. and South Road St. The tavern “Blue Duck Inn” was listed from 1939 to 1955, located at 404½ Ehringhaus St. There is little information on either, but the Blue Duck Inn was owned and managed by Henry C. Hargraves, who also owned and operated an African-American club at his Hargraves Beach property in Currituck County. See the museum’s current exhibit, “Memorable Sands,” for more information on African-American beaches during segregation.

If you have information or anecdotes relating to the Green Book or the N.C. businesses it listed, please share with the “Oasis Spaces” researchers via greenbooknc@ncdcr.gov .

Carrie Barker is a Volunteer at Museum of the Albemarle and a Receptionist for the Elizabeth City Visitor’s Center.

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