Charlottesville historians discuss local Green Books and their significance to Black travelers

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 11:42 AM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Victor Hugo Green created the “Negro Traveler’s Green Book” in 1936. During the Jim Crow era, Green Books served as a life line for Black travelers looking to get from point A to point B while avoiding danger.

The Jim Crow era is remembered as one of the most racist periods in American history. It was time when sundown towns were found across the country, segregation was legal, and violent mobs attacking Black travelers was the norm.

Phillip Cobb experienced traveling during the Jim Crow era, heading from his home in Albemarle County to see the Tuskegee Institute.

“I remember going into service stations and being refused service, having the attendants walk out, see we were Black and wave us off and say we’re not serving you,” Cobb said.

Although he was just a child, he says that pain is still with him.

“That was the first time I had really experienced that level of rejection. It did not feel good,” Cobb said.

Miranda Burnett is a JMRL historical collection librarian researching the Green Books.

“One of the Green Book locations was the Chauffeurs Rest hotel. Kind of a resident inn, and that was located on old Preston and currently is under the Omni parking lot, but that location was owned by the Commodore family,” Burnett said.

Some Green Book locations like the Chauffeurs Rest have been demolished, but some, like Alexander’s Home on Dice Street, are still standing and can be visited. The Green Books listed places where people could stay for the night, but also things like salons, barber shops, and even the Paramount Theatre.

Olivia Pettee is a third year UVA student and research assistant working to preserve and digitize Green Books for the university. Catherine Zipf is a historian who shares that goal.

“Maybe one of the lesser known locations that was actually demolished is a house known as Carver Inn, and a fun fact that I actually discovered about the Carver Inn is that the first Black of graduate of UVA actually stayed in the Carver Inn instead of staying on Grounds,” Pettee said.

Zipf says that these locations are significant because as a Black traveler during the Jim Crow era, even getting out of your vehicle could be a matter of life and death.

“When you have to stay on the road for you know, 600 miles, that means not even just getting out of the car to sleep, You’re eating in the car, you’re using the bathroom in the car,” Zipf said.

Another historian named Susan Hellman has been plotting and digitizing the Green Books since 2016 so that they can exist online.

“It’s really exciting to commemorate both these buildings that still exist. Also, just that these are regular, normal people. It’s not Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman, but it’s normal people who are doing actually something pretty heroic for that day and time,” Hellman said.

93rd District Delegate Mike Mullin is championing a bill to place honorary markers at each Green Location in the Commonwealth, and Hellman is hopeful it will pass through the Senate and move forward.

“I’m fascinated with the Green Book itself, so understand why it was needed for travel. My limited experience of traveling during that heavily segregated time gave me an insight,” Cobb said.

Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture(NYPL)

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