In 1946, Nat King Cole helped put Route 66 on the map with his classic, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." Ironically, Cole couldn’t visit most of the establishments in the cities he sang about because he was black. At the time, Jim Crow laws banned people of color from sleeping, eating, buying gas – even getting haircuts at many businesses across the country, including along the Mother Road. But there were some safe havens, like La Posada Hotel in Winslow, the White Rock Motel in Kingman, and DuBeau’s Motel Inn in Flagstaff. These locations were listed in the Green Book, a travel guide for people of color, first published in the 1930s. Documentarian Candacy Taylor came across it, while writing a Route 66 travel guide. She believes the Green Book saved countless black lives. It’s now the focus of her new initiative, The Green Book Project.
Candacy Taylor: Well, the Green Book was a historic travel guide. It was published in 1936 and remained in publication until 1966, and it was a resourceful solution to a horrific problem. It was a travel guide that was expressly made for black people who wanted to experience America like anybody else. So, there were restaurants and hotels. Other things like tailors and barbershops and taverns. Anything you might need on the road. It was considered the bible of black travel.
Aaron Granillo: And, it was published by a man named Victor Hugo Green. How did he learn about all of these locations and get this information out?
Well, he was a postal worker in Harlem. So, he had this great access because he knew other postal workers throughout the country. So, they would – on their beat – go and find other businesses to advertise in the Green Book. But, originally it was just something that was serving his own community. New York has the largest cluster of Green Book sites. There’s over 350 just in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
How would you say Route 66 and the Green Book are connected?
Well, for me it’s how came into my life. I was writing a travel guide on Route 66, Moon Route 66 Road Trip. And, being a black woman myself and being a travel writer and a documentarian, I just needed to find a different way to talk about Route 66. And, I was going to an exhibit on Route 66 and they had – underneath glass, tucked away in a corner – this Negro Motorists Green Book. And, I had never seen it before, I’d never heard of it. I didn’t know what it was. So, I went home and did research and realized, oh my gosh, you know. And, it was so necessary because Route 66, in particular, has that icon of hitting the open road, moving westward. There’s this treasure of hope and just anything is possible and opportunity is for everyone, you know, except black people or people of color who were traveling in the country during that time.
Candacy Taylor produced this short video about the Negro Motorists' Green Book, and its ties to Route 66:
You’ve written that carrying the Green Book for African Americans then was literally – it was a matter of life and death. Why was that?
So, the Green Book was so critical because even on Route 66, we’ve estimated 44 out of the 89 counties along Route 66 were sundown towns. For your listeners, I don’t know if you’ve heard of a sundown town. But, sundown towns were communities that were white on purpose. And, you could not be there and be black after 6pm. So, some sundown towns had signs right when you entered, saying you know, “nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you here.” Other sundown towns would ring a bell at 6pm, alerting the black people to leave. But, if you were on vacation and you had no idea where you were essentially or what you were driving into, you needed this travel guide. You needed the Green Book because it would let you know where the next services were going to be, and you would need to make sure you weren’t going to end up in a sundown town after 6pm.
How many sites here in Arizona were listed in the Green Book? I would think that because we’re closer to the West there might be a few more locations here than compared to other states, at least in the Deep South.
Arizona has about a little over 100 that I’ve documented so far. And, I think there’s like four in Flagstaff. Most of them are located in Phoenix, which are not on Route 66. But, there were still signs in places in the West in New Mexico and Arizona that said, “No negroes. No dogs.” So, racism and segregation was in full force. The thing that makes Route 66, I think, unique is the image that we have of the white, middleclass, suburban family jumping in their airstream trailer and heading out West. And, the heyday of the 50s and a lot of the imagery that’s associated with that time is very specific to a small segment of the population. And, I think it just should be noted that that’s not how it was, especially for black people.
Can you tell me more about your new initiative – what the Green Book Project is?
Well, the project I’m working on is I’ve gotten a couple grants to document Green Book properties, documenting what’s left. Because, we’ve estimated at least three quarters are just gone. Or they’ve been so radically modified they’re not even recognizable anymore. And, I’m actually headed out. I’m driving on the road for a month, documenting Green Book sites. I’m estimating to hit about 400. All of this preliminary research will end being a traveling exhibition and a book and a virtual reality platform. So, I’m busy. It’s good.