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.
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 Bible of black travel. 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. Green Book listings were sites of sanctuary. They were also sites of resistance.
The Green Book Walking Tour stops at sites in Center City and South Philly.
The walking tour starts at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel (now The Bellevue Philadelphia) and ends at the repurposed Attucks Hotel (distance: 0.7 miles).
The Green Book Walking Tour is led by All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson, a storyteller who is passionate about uncovering hidden and forgotten stories.
To book a tour, go to Airbnb Experiences.
To schedule a group tour or Mapping the Green Book in Philadelphia presentation, contact Faye at email@example.com.
Legendary composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington was not an outspoken activist. His activism was expressed in benefit concerts, non-segregation clause in his contract and his music. In the 1960s, Ellington was asked when he was going to compose a civil rights piece. His reply, “I did my piece more than 20 years ago when I wrote Jump for Joy.”
Debuted on July 10, 1941, at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, the musical addressed African American identity and representation. For Ellington, showcasing black excellence was an act of resistance to racial caricatures. Although Jump for Joy received rave reviews, it ran for only 122 performances. The musical never made it to Broadway. The “Great White Way” was not ready for Ellington’s unapologetic blackness.
Nearly 80 years later, audiences still jump for joy when they hear songs from the musical, including “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good) and “Rocks in My Bed.”
Motown legend Marvin Gaye was born on April 2, 1939. To celebrate what would have been the 80th birthday of the “Prince of Soul,” the United States Postal Service will release the Marvin Gaye Commemorative Forever® Stamp.
In a Facebook post, USPS wrote:
Dear Music Fans,
We’re honoring the life, legend and sound of Marvin Gaye (1939 – 1984) with the newest stamp in our Music Icons series. Pictured here in front of Washington D.C.’s @howardtheatre, where he graced the stage, our stamp features a portrait of Gaye inspired by historic photographs.
With hits like “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” Gaye helped shape the buoyant sound of the Motown record label in the 1960s. Released in 1971, his expansive masterwork, “What’s Going On,” is widely considered one of the greatest recordings in the history of American popular music.
Gaye’s presence and unique sound will live on forever through his music and now through the mail. Send some soul by including the Marvin Gaye stamp on your envelope.
The Marvin Gaye Commemorative Forever® Stamp will be unveiled at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. You can watch the dedication ceremony on the USPS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/USPS on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 11 a.m. PDT.
Jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman will be present at the celebration. Later that day, he will drop a tribute album, “Dear Marvin,” a collection of ten of the iconic crooner’s best songs.
Trotman told JazzCorner.com:
It’s been an honor to be able to share my interpretations of some of Marvin’s classics. As with all cover projects, I made an extra effort to learn lyrics and storylines for each composition in order to truly understand his interpretations and performances on each song.
You’ve got to give it up for Marvin Gaye who is forever stamped in our hearts and minds.
March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women to jazz. As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate women who used music as a platform for social change.
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-known.
Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not as well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.
Ella Fitzgerald broke down racial barriers. On October 7, 1955, the “First Lady of Song” performed with the Jazz at the Philharmonic in Houston. The concert tour was produced by her manager Norman Granz, an ally in the fight for racial justice. The Music Hall had “Negro” and “White” labels on the bathroom doors. Shortly before the show, Granz removed the labels.
Houston’s segregationists were angry about Granz’s attempt to integrate the show by refusing to pre-sell tickets. Some whites asked for a refund rather than sit next to an African American. After the first show, the police stormed Fitzgerald’s dressing room and arrested her, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and other musicians on trumped-up charges.
With the intervention of her friend, actress Marilyn Monroe, Fitzgerald was the first African American to perform at the legendary Mocambo nightclub.
Nina Simone’s outrage over the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church emboldened civil rights activists.
Simone’s celebration of black excellence inspired a new generation of civil rights activists, including the writer.