Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America

Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor was a remarkable book about the travel guide known as the Green Book. This guide, in print from 1936 to 1967, was created to inform black travellers of hotels, resorts, restaurants, nightclubs and other amenities and attractions that did not discriminate. In the time of segregation, black travellers would not have known everyplace where it was safe to visit, or which places were in fact sundown towns should they arrive and need accommodation at night. Founded by Victor Hugo Green, his guide was essential reading in the time of Jim Crow. He even printed “Carry your Green Book with you–You may need it.” on the front cover for many years.

Taylor travelled through history from the year of the first Green Book in 1936, covering the postwar years to the burgeoning black power movement. She also touched on themes, such as train travel, music venues, Route 66, and women travellers.

Desegregation opened up the possibilities for black travellers to visit new places and they were not limited to the finite lists within the Green Book. Unfortunately the business owners who had previously seen their patronage suffered as their customer base disappeared. The sense of black community which one encountered while on vacation vanished as black travellers enjoyed the integrated experience (which, truth be told, was still wrought with discrimination). One community activist put it succinctly: “We got what we wanted, but we lost what we had.”

Taylor produced a weighty and attractive work full of photographs showing every cover of every Green Book ever published, as well as many pages showing the contents within. She travelled all over the country to locate places listed in the guide and photographed how they look today. Taylor told a story in an engaging format that placed the reader in the car with the traveller. Even the pages double-spread with solid text were rapid reads. The print was easy on the eyes. Overall the book felt and looked like a luxurious piece of art as it was so beautifully laid out.

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