American Truth: Segregation and ‘The Green Book’
African Americans feared for their safety and were forced to live life in ways many people can’t understand. In order to travel safely in the early 1900s, many African Americans relied on “The Green Book.”
Victor Green published “The Negro Motorist Green Book” from 1936-1964, and it contained the addresses of hotels, homes and restaurants that welcomed African American travelers. At its peak, it sold 2 million copies a year. Recently, it inspired an award winning movie.
Readers who flip through the pages will see Paducah, Kentucky, addresses listed. Among them is the Hotel Metropolitan that still stands today. Built in 1908 by Maggie Steed, it was a safe haven for travelers of color. Now, it serves as a reminder of our nation’s past.
“The Hotel Metropolitan is an African American museum and landmark,” director Betty Dobson said.
Jim Crow laws at a state and local level enforced segregation and prevented African Americans from staying at establishments where Caucasians stayed or did business.
The Hotel Metropolitan has had its fair share of famous visitors over the years, including Thurgood Marshall, Ike and Tina Turner, BB King, Della Reese, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong.
“If we don’t know our history, we might be doomed to repeat it. And not all in history is good. That’s why the hotel had to be here, because during those bad times in our history when folks couldn’t live together, if you didn’t look just right,” Dobson said.
“I think some white people would find it, you know, just mind boggling that you had to live, people had to actually live this way, a certain way, you know? It’s different when it never has to cross your mind — ever,” Dobson said.
“The Green Book” can serve as a conversation starter to continue the dialogue to better race relations today.
“I really don’t know how much is left to do, but I would say this: We have to start treating each other with dignity and respect if we’re going to make it in this world,” Dobson said.
In addition to Hotel Metropolitan listed in the 1940 publication of “The Green Book,” there were several other addresses. Today, they’re empty lots or commercial parking lots.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act that mandated the end of segregation.