Traveling Through Jim Crow America

NMAAHC photo, history

Source: NMAAHC

During the segregation era, discriminatory laws and practices made traveling by car a difficult and even dangerous experience for African Americans. Along the nation’s highways, black travelers were routinely denied access to basic services like gas, food, restrooms, and lodging. Stopping in an unfamiliar place carried the risk of humiliation, threats, or worse. To find safe and friendly accommodations, travelers relied on a network of shared advice, exchanged by word of mouth and also published in travel guides such as the “Green Book.”

“The Negro Motorist Green Book,” pictured above from our collection, was a guidebook for African American travelers that provided a list of hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations, and other establishments throughout the country that served African American patrons. The information included in the Green Book helped increase their safety and treatment. During the Jim Crow era, laws enforced segregation in the South between 1877, the post-Reconstruction era, and up through the 1950s at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. The term “Jim Crow” derives from a minstrel show character and came to mark almost a century of legal segregation and discrimination against African Americans.

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