Victor Hugo Green, publisher of The Negro Motorist Green Book, was a visionary.
Green envisioned a network of safe and welcoming places for African Americans. First published in 1936, the travel guide targeted the New York City metropolitan area. By 1938, the Green Book included all the states east of the Mississippi River.
Over time, there were 9,500 Green Book listings across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, Europe and Africa. The highest concentration was in cities with large African American populations including Atlantic City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Check out this WHYY podcast focusing on Philadelphia’s extant Green Book sites, “Philly’s ‘20th century Underground Railroad’ hides in plain sight.”
The holiday season is in full swing. Sadly, death never takes a holiday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates there will be 1,253 motor vehicle traffic crash fatalities between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Roughly one-third of the fatalities will be alcohol-related.
Alcohol-impaired drivers are not a new phenomenon. In 1959, the General Board of Temperance of the Methodist Church produced an animated PSA about safe driving called “Stop Driving Us Crazy.” The soundtrack was scored by Philadelphia native and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Benny Golson, and music played by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
Later this month, I will give a talk on the Green Book at the Paul Robeson House and Museum in Philadelphia. I first wrote about “The Negro Motorist Green Book” in 2015. That year, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture digitized Victor Hugo’s travel guide which was published from 1936 to 1966.
The now-iconic publication is experiencing a renaissance. Countless news articles, essays and blog posts have been written. A documentary, Driving While Black, will air on PBS next year. In June 2020, a Green Book exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service will begin a three-year tour. The first stop is the most famous Green Book site, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
Over the course of 30 years, dozens of Philadelphia businesses were listed in the Green Book. The businesses were clustered in South Philadelphia, then the heart of the African American community.
Almost 70 percent of Philadelphia’s buildings were constructed before 1945. So it’s not surprising there are 45 extant Green Book sites. A few are vacant; most have been repurposed. Five are in the same business including the Hotel Carlyle which was first listed in the Green Book in 1948 and is doing business under the same name.
To arrange a presentation for your organization, university, school, etc., contact #GreenBookPHL Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fisk University was founded in January 1866 to educate newly freed blacks. Between 1871 and 1880, the Fisk Jubilee Singers staged a series of fundraising concerts that introduced slave songs to the world.
From Fisk University History:
The tradition of excellence at Fisk has developed out of a history marked by struggle and uncertainty. Fisk’s world-famous Jubilee Singers originated as a group of traveling students who set out from Nashville on October 6, 1871, taking the entire contents of the University treasury with them for travel expenses, praying that through their music they could somehow raise enough money to keep open the doors of their debt-ridden school.
The singers struggled at first, but before long, their performances so electrified audiences that they traveled throughout the United States and Europe, moving to tears audiences that included William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Ulysses S. Grant, William Gladstone, Mark Twain, Johann Strauss, and Queen Victoria.
On November 19, 2019, American Experience PBS will air “Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory.”
Under the proprietorship of Stan Cooper, this West Philly jazz spot was popular in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Club Harlem played host to jazz and blues greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucky Millender, John Coltrane, Dinah Washington, Bull Moose Jackson, Erskine Hawkins and Nat King Cole. On May 30, 1952, KYW broadcast a live concert by the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Club Harlem closed in 1952 following a dispute with Union Local 274, the black musicians union.
Sixty miles north, Atlantic City’s Club Harlem was located at “KY and the Curb,” the block of Kentucky Avenue from Arctic to Atlantic avenues.
The legendary nightclub was jumping from 1935 to 1975.
On August 9, 1969, organist Lonnie Smith recorded a live album at Club Harlem.
Club Harlem is featured in the Atlantic City Experience, a multi-media exhibit which opened earlier this year in Boardwalk Hall. The exhibit includes a photo of The Apex Hair Co. Inc. founded by Sara Spencer Washington in 1920.
The former location of the Apex Beauty College is a stop on the Green Book Philadelphia Walking Tour: Lombard Street Edition.
The walking tour is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2020, 10:00am to 12:00pm. To receive notice when tickets are available, send email to: email@example.com.
When I moved to Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, a former mayor and police commissioner, had been dead for nearly two decades. Still, Philadelphians spoke about him with a passion and anger that was visceral. Rizzo’s legacy includes the untreated trauma that he inflicted on the African American community.
As I researched Philadelphia’s jazz history, I heard stories about how Rizzo harassed jazz musicians and club owners. So it is shocking that a monument of a man who was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of police brutality that “shocks the conscience” is at the gateway to municipal services.
I looked at the story behind the story and learned the Rizzo monument was financed by his family. The public was never asked whether the vanity project was an appropriate monument for the City of Philadelphia. Not only was the public not asked, the vanity project was unveiled on January 1, 1999 after the Mummers Parade, an event that for decades featured marchers in blackface.
On the day Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced his endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic presidential nomination, it was reported Kenney has no plan to remove the Rizzo monument from Thomas Paine Plaza. Warren supports removal of Confederate monuments and the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag.
I join Pennsylvania State Chapter National Action Network in calling on Warren to support removal of the monument of Frank Rizzo, a racist cop who trampled on civil rights, urged supporters to “vote white” and traumatized the African American community. You can read the press release here.