The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America
The first book to explore the historical role and residual impact of the Green Book, a travel guide for black motorists
Published from 1936 to 1966, the Green Book was hailed as the “black travel guide to America.” At that time, it was very dangerous and difficult for African-Americans to travel because black travelers couldn’t eat, sleep, or buy gas at most white-owned businesses. The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that were safe for black travelers. It was a resourceful and innovative solution to a horrific problem. It took courage to be listed in the Green Book, and Overground Railroad celebrates the stories of those who put their names in the book and stood up against segregation. It shows the history of the Green Book, how we arrived at our present historical moment, and how far we still have to go when it comes to race relations in America.
Praise For Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America…
— Brent Leggs
“…a fascinating history of black travel.. telling the sweeping story of black travel within Jim Crow America across four decades.”
— The New York Times Book Review
“In scope and tone, “Overground Railroad” recalls Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns…At its center, the book is a nuanced commentary of how black bodies have been monitored, censured or violated, and it compellingly pulls readers into the current news cycle.”
— The Los Angeles Times
“Taylor, previously a Harvard fellow, gives the topic the context and meticulous research it deserves, while keeping an eye on current race relations.”
— National Geographic
“The strength of this book about a book lies in the street-level views through which the American road unspools in all its compromised glory.”
— The Economist
"A fascinating look at a groundbreaking guide."
— The New York Post
“…her book is a moving and needed history. The overt white nationalism of our era highlights the covert racism that never went away.”
"An enriching look at African American history through the lens of the black motorist, and as one of the few books on the subject, this is essential for most collections."
— Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“Overground Railroad is an eye-opening, deeply moving social history of American segregation and black migration during the middle years of the 20th century.”
— BookPage, STARRED review
“The overarching story of the Green Book reminds us that individual acts of bravery contributed immeasurably to standing up to segregation.”
— The Daily Beast
“In offering tangible actions readers can take, Taylor has created a valuable document that, like The Green Book itself, serves as a bittersweet handbook of resilience in the face of injustice.”
“If ‘making a way out of no way’ is a theme that runs throughout African American life, few things encapsulate that theme more powerfully than the Green Book. A symbol of Jim Crow America, it is also a stunning rebuke of it, born out of ingenuity and the relentless quest for freedom. Candacy Taylor’s own quest for Green Book sites throughout the United States reveals her own relentlessness as well as a potent gift for bringing these sites, and the black past, alive.”
— Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“Overground Railroad is an extraordinary reckoning with the America that whites have always believed existed, and with the America that blacks actually experienced, navigated, and made theirs despite every barrier.”
— Heather Ann Thompson
“Candacy Taylor’s cleverly titled, heroically researched Green Book travelogue should be indispensable reading. The Underground Railroad carried tens of thousands of slaves to freedom. Taylor’s Overground Railroad transports their twentieth-century descendants to the Jim Crow reality of a hypocritical country. Her stunning book compels us to wonder where the ride is taking all of us now.”
— David Levering Lewis
“Published during the period of Jim Crow segregation, the various editions of the Green Book identified establishments willing to serve blacks, ranging from hotels and restaurants to drugstores and gas stations. Overground Railroad carefully places these operations in their historical and geographic context and provides a wealth of useful information not only for social scientists, historians, students, and journalists who want to examine important aspects of the changing black experience, but for general readers as well.”
— William Julius Wilson
“Overground Railroad reorients the narrative of allure surrounding Route 66 in order to account for the grim reality of the violence that black people faced on that old American road.”
— The Atlantic
“Candacy Taylor not only examines the history of the Green Book, but also dives into what its impact means for Black individuals and families today.” – Bustle
Abrams Press, 9781419738173, 360pp.
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Throughout the book, what were the most common images or stories you associated with “driving while black”? How does the author’s description align with or differ from those images or stories?
2. Discuss the book’s title and how the dangers on the modern roads of the Green Book era (circa 1934–1970) were the same or different from the Underground Railroad during the slavery era.
3. The author presents Green Book publisher, Victor Hugo Green, in heroic terms, stating that the guide’s longevity and success stem from his “vision, grit, creativity, and stamina.” Was he a hero? Should he be regarded as important a publisher as John H. Johnson of Ebony and Jet magazines?
4. Why do you think the Green Book lasted for decades, outlasting all of the other travel guides for African American people?
5. The author states that “given the violence that black travelers encountered on the road, the Green Book was an ingenious solution to a horrific problem.” What other solutions could have been possible?
6. Of the many sites mentioned from the Jim Crow era, very few of them are still in existence. On the subject of integration, Florida activist Georgia Ayers states, “We got what we wanted, but we lost what we had.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
7. The author helps readers make connections between white supremacy and government policies that impacted the lives of Black people. How have times changed or remained the same?
8. In what ways are current travel restrictions to African American people similar to those that are represented in the book? In addition to the dangers of “driving while black” and being stopped by the police, what other kinds of discrimination did Black people experience? How are these discriminatory practices still evident in today’s society?
9. Why do you think the author used her stepfather’s experiences to relay the dangers of travel for African American people? How did his life experiences parallel the broader historic experiences that Taylor discusses throughout the book?