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Monthly with Mosley: Traveling while Black with the 'Green Book'

MPL central branch, The Green Book, The Negro Travelers' Green Book
Mallory Cheng
/
WUWM
The Green Book served as a guide for Black motorists traveling during the Jim Crow era. Pictured is a Green Book edition from 1955, available for view at the Milwaukee Public library's central branch.

The history of the Green Book dates back to the Jim Crow era and was originally known as The Negro Travelers' Green Book by Victor Hugo Green. It served as a guide for Black motorists to find places throughout the country where they could safely dine, sleep or seek other services.

Judge Derek Mosley starts by explaining where the name Jim Crow originates.

The name dates back to the 1800s to a vaudeville actor named Thomas Dartmouth Rice, known for his character, Jim Crow, a newly freed enslaved Black man. Rice was a white man who performed in blackface and portrayed stereotypes of Black people.

Mosley mentions that legislators in the South at that time wanted to continue to separate the races. And used Jim Crow as an example to justify making the laws.

"Jim Crow became a euphemism for Black people," Mosley says. These laws made it extremely difficult and dangerous for Black Americans to find food, lodging or other accommodations while traveling.

Mosley says, "Unfortunately, you might stumble into a town, and it was time for you to go to sleep. And there [would be] no hotel or motel that will let you come in, or you would go into a restaurant with your family to have a meal, and the owner would come out and kick you and your family out."

As a result, Victor Hugo Green saw the need for a travel guide that would help inform Black motorists of safe places they could patron. Green started publishing the booklet in 1936 until 1968.

"I remember hearing stories of my family keeping a copy of the Green Book in their glove compartment," Mosley recounts. "You just didn't know where you were going to be and where you could stop."

Mosley emphasizes that the history of Jim Crow and using the Green Book wasn't that long ago.

"The significance of the Green Book today is that it allows people who aren't that young, people who are my age and older, who didn't know about this, to realize that not everybody grew up the same way, not everybody had to deal with the same issues."

Monthly with Mosley features Judge Derek Mosley. He joins Lake Effect every month, to share restaurant recommendations, unpack our legal system, and share his personal research on Black history. Judge Derek Mosley is a municipal court judge for the city of Milwaukee for his day job, and he is also known as one of Milwaukee’s food influencers.

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