'The Green Book: Guide to Freedom' Digs Into the True Story Behind the Oscar-Nominated Film

Christina Gables
Smithsonian Channel

In the 1930s, Victor Hugo Green worked as a postal carrier in Harlem but his girl lived in Richmond, Virginia, so he faced many challenges along the eastern seaboard “traveling while black.” Black motorists often ran into unspoken discrimination, making it more difficult to know if they would be welcomed or threatened with vandalism, assault or even death. With the input of other postal workers, Green created The Negro Motorist Green Book to help drivers safely navigate the roads during the Jim Crow era, 1936-67.

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Amazon Celebrates Black History Month With Special Lineup

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The Green Book: Guide to Freedom features a wide array of experts delving into the history of The Green Book — historians, business owners and individuals who experienced first-hand the indignities and struggles faced on the road.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

Filmmaker Yoruba Richen (The New Black) drew upon personal videos from The Great Migration Home Movie Project. The National African American History Museum runs this project where families bring in their old home films which are copied and returned. In this way, the lives of black families live on in the archives.

The Green Book was indispensable to black-owned businesses. Within its pages were listings of hotels, guest houses, service stations, drug stores, taverns, barber shops and restaurants that were known to be safe ports of call. The travel guide allowed African Americans to safely tour the country during a time of severe institutionalized racism. The motto on the guide’s cover also doubled as a warning: “Carry your Green Book with you — you may need it.”

Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom also tells the story of the rise the African American middle class in Detroit, journeys to the oasis of Idlewild (a vacation community in western Michigan) and the iconic A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama — a pivotal location in the civil rights movement.

The story of The Green Book’s success shows the resolve of African Americans to thrive in a world that seemed to root for their failure by means of discrimination and ignominy.

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, Monday, February 25, 8/7c, Smithsonian Channel