What’s old is new again. The Negro Motorist Green Book published by Victor H. Green, a postal worker in Harlem, is all the rage. Access to the Green Book in the New York Public Library Digital Collections and the forgettable “Green Book” movie sparked interest in the crowdsourced travel guide that was published from 1936 to 1966.
The Green Book empowered African Americans to “vacation without aggravation.” The guide helped travelers, including musicians, athletes and businesspeople, navigate Jim Crow laws in the South and racial segregation in the North. “Your Rights, Briefly Speaking!” is a precursor to the current mantra to “know your rights.”
A network of postal workers scouted out advertisers for the travel guide. Green Book listings included hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, barber shops and beauty parlors. Green envisioned a time when his publication would no longer be necessary:
There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.
That day did not come until July 2, 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations.
Over the course of 30 years, there were dozens of Philadelphia listings. Some businesses advertised every year; others for one or multiple years. Drawing on archival materials and oral histories, we contextualize the social history of jazz. Green Book sites were sites of sanctuary. They were also sites of resistance.
All That Philly Jazz Walking Tour: Green Book Edition visits safe spaces in Center City and South Philly.
The tour begins at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel (now The Bellevue Philadelphia) and ends at the repurposed Attucks Hotel. Parenthetically, the architectural drawings for the Attucks Hotel are included in the Magaziner Collection of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
- National historic landmark where John Coltrane first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie;
- Supper club that was a hangout for the producers and musicians who created “The Sound of Philadelphia”;
- Hotel that welcomed jazz luminaries to its stage from the 1940s to the 1980s, and where Sidney Bechet, Coltrane and Grover Washington Jr. recorded live albums;
- Hotels where Billie Holiday stayed and was arrested;
- Pep’s Musical Bar where jazz and blues greats performed on the inside and tap dancers improvised on the outside;
- Jazz club that paid homage to postal workers and U.S. Postal Service;
- Dive bar that was the setting for the Broadway play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”; and
- Fraternal lodge where Bessie Smith’s funeral was held and an after-hours club was located on the top floor.
All That Philly Jazz Walking Tour: Green Book Edition will be held on September 21 and 22 in celebration of John Coltrane’s birthday. The tour will be led by Faye Anderson, a storyteller who is passionate about uncovering hidden places and untold stories.
Join us as we walk and talk about a forgotten chapter of Philadelphia history.