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The Green Book's Harlem Roots

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

The Green Book's Harlem roots
"The Negro Travelers' Green Book: Fall 1956." Image courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

However you feel about Green Book winning the Academy Award for Best Picture last night, don't miss out on learning more about the travel guide it's named after—and peeking inside its pages.

A directory for Black people traveling through segregated mid-century America, the book was the brainchild of Victor Green, an African-American postal worker from Harlem (yes, it was named after him).

The very first edition in 1936, The Negro Motorist Green Book, focused on hotels, restaurants, stores and gas stations that welcomed Black travelers in the New York area, but quickly expanded to other parts of the country. "Carry your Green Book with you—you may need it," advised a line on the cover.

Green was soon printing 15,000 copies a year and running a travel agency out of an office at 200 West 135th Street; the guide ran until 1966. But if it all feels like ancient history today, a look through the Harlem listings of any edition—you'll find them under New York State—will quickly connect you to the past.

The Green Book's Harlem roots
"The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1947" Image courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

While most of the Harlem businesses that appear in the guide are long gone—from storied "taverns" like the Lenox Lounge to long-forgotten destinations like Mayling, a Chinese restaurant at 1723 Amsterdam Avenue—the names and addresses act as a bridge to the neighborhood's history as a nexus of African Americans.

Not everything has completely vanished, either. The YMCA on 135th Street, listed as a hotel in the 1947 edition, still stands today. The vintage neon sign for Hotel Fane, another mid-century Harlem lodging spot, still hangs outside of 205 West 135th Street, although the building is now a women's shelter.

The Hotel Fane at 205 West 135th used to be listed in The Green Book
Hotel Fane at 205 West 135th Street in Harlem used to be listed in "The Green Book."

Best of all, leafing through The Green Book is easier than you'd think. An essential part of Black history, the guide has been digitized by the Schomburg, making it a cinch to click through its many versions.

Want your forever copy? Some of the editions have even been reprinted and can be purchased here.

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