A blog about Sundown Towns: Green Books for Black Travelers – a guide to help black travelers find safe lodging and towns during the Jim Crow era.
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What are Sundown Towns?
Sundown towns are communities that were purposely all-white. They enforced their racial segregation with any number of means, from intimidation to violence to de facto segregation through residential zoning. “Sundown” meant that blacks had to be out of town by a certain time, usually dusk. Violators would be subject to harassment, violence, or worse.
The term “sundown town” was first coined in the early twentieth century, although the practice of all-white communities dates back to the eighteenth century and possibly earlier. The sundown town was a response to two historical factors: the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern industrial cities, and the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival movement that created support for abolition and civil rights.
The sundown town reached its peak in the 1920s, when hundreds of all-white communities were established across the United States. But the practice continued into the 1960s and 1970s, as blacks began moving into previously all-white neighborhoods in cities and towns across the country.
Today, there are still many communities that remain largely or exclusively white. But the number of sundown towns has declined sharply since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The History of Sundown Towns
Sundown towns were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s in response to the Great Migration, when black Americans began moving from the rural South to the urban North in search of better opportunities. Sundown towns were all-white communities that enforced a curfew on black residents, often posted signs that read “nigger, don’t let the sun set on you in this town,” or simply refused to sell homes to black families. While most sundown towns were located in the North, there were also some in the South and West.
The first sundown town is believed to be Osceola, Iowa, which passed a resolution in 1885 banning black residents from living within city limits. By the early 1920s, there were an estimated 3,000 sundown towns across the country. Today, there are thought to be fewer than 500.
Sundown towns rose to prominence during a time of intense racial tension in America. This was a period when lynchings were common, Jim Crow laws ruled the South, and blacks faced significant obstacles to voting and holding office. In many ways, sundown towns were a reaction to the progress black Americans were making during this time period.
While some sundown towns have been desegregated over time, others remain staunchly all-white communities. Stockbridge, Georgia is one example of a town that remains sundown today.
The Green Book and Black Travelers
The Green Book, also known as the Negro Motorist Green Book, was an annual publication that provided black Americans with travel resources during the period of Jim Crow laws, when they were subject to discrimination and violence while traveling.
The Book was first published in 1936 by Victor H. Green, a black postman from Harlem. It listed businesses and services that were safe and welcoming to black travelers, as well as advice on how to avoid trouble while on the road.
The book was an immediate success, and it continued to be published until 1966. It was a valuable resource for black Americans during a time when they were largely excluded from the mainstream travel industry.
Today, the Green Book is celebrated as an important part of African American history. Its legacy continues to inspire people of all races to stand up for equality and civil rights.
The Importance of the Green Book
The Green Book, officially titled “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was an annual guidebook for African American travelers published between 1936 and 1966. The book provided information on safe places for African American travelers to stay, as well as restaurants, service stations, and other businesses that welcomed African American customers.
During the Jim Crow era, many public spaces were segregated by race. Travel could be especially difficult for black Americans, who often had to contend with discriminatory treatment or even violence. The Green Book was one way to help black travelers navigate a sometimes hostile world.
The book was the brainchild of mailman Victor H. Green, who began compiling listings of safe places for black travelers in the early 1930s. Green began by talking to friends and colleagues, as well as writing to hoteliers and business owners around the country. He then compiled all of his information into a single volume, which he published annually.
Over time, the Green Book became an increasingly essential resource for black travelers. In its final years of publication, it listed more than 2,000 businesses in over 500 cities across the United States.
While the Green Book was a valuable resource for black travelers during the Jim Crow era, it is important to remember that its listings were not always comprehensive or accurate. Travelers should always exercise caution and use their best judgment when planning trips during this period or any other time.
How the Green Book Helped Black Travelers
From its first edition in 1936 until it ceased publication in 1967, the Negro Motorist Green Book was an invaluable resource for African American travelers. Also known as the “Green Book,” it was created by New York City mailman Victor H. Green and provided detailed information on safe places for black people to eat, sleep, and refuel when they were on the road.
At a time when black Americans were subject to Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial segregation, the Green Book was a lifeline, helping them find businesses that would serve them and avoiding areas where they might be subjected to violence or arrested for “trespassing.” The book was particularly important during the years of the Civil Rights movement, when black Americans were traveling across the country to participate in protests and marches.
Today, the Green Book is an important part of American history, and its legacy continues to inspire new generations of black travelers.
The Legacy of the Green Book
The Green Book, also known as “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was an annual guidebook published by Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966. The book provided African American travelers with information on safe places to stay and eat while on the road. It was a valuable resource during an era when sundown towns and other racist policies made travel difficult and dangerous for black Americans.
The legacy of the Green Book continues today. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the history of black travel and the importance of the Green Book. In 2017, a film adaptation of the book was released, starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. The film received critical acclaim and brought the story of the Green Book to a new generation of audiences.
Today, there are several organizations that are working to preserve the history of the Green Book and its impact on American society. These organizations are working to keep the memory of the Green Book alive and to ensure that its lessons are not forgotten.
The Future of the Green Book
The Green Book, famously used by African American motorists during the Jim Crow era, was published for the last time in 1966. Although the civil rights movement brought an end to legal segregation, “sundown towns”—places where black people were not welcome after dark—persisted well into the 20th century. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the Green Book, as a symbol of resistance against racism and a reminder of the challenges faced by black Americans during this period.
With the rise of hate crimes and racist rhetoric in America today, some believe that the Green Book could be making a comeback. In 2017, an online version of the guide was launched, listing safe places for black travelers to stay and visit. And last year, a film based on the Green Book won multiple Academy Awards, bringing the story of this important piece of history to a new generation.
While it is unlikely that the Green Book will ever be needed again in its original form, its legacy continues to inspire people who are fighting for a more just and inclusive society.
What You Can Do to Help
There are a number of things that you can do to help support black travelers. Here are a few suggestions:
-Become familiar with the resources that are available to black travelers. The Green Book is a great resource, but there are also websites and apps that can help black travelers find safe places to stay and travel.
-Share information about safe places to stay and travel with black friends and family members. If you know of a good sundown town, share that information!
-Support businesses that are friendly to black travelers. This could include hotels, restaurants, or tour companies.
– Speak up if you see or hear something that is not welcoming to black travelers. Showing your support can make a difference!
Resources for Further Reading
Looking for more books about sundown towns and segregation? Here are some resources for further reading.
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James Loewen
This book explores the history of sundown towns, defined as places that were intentionally all white, and examines the impact that segregation had on black Americans.
The Green Book: The Black Traveler’s Guide to America by Welton Smith
This book was published from 1936 to 1966 and was intended to help black Americans find places to stay while they were travels. It includes listings of restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that were black-friendly.
Sundown Towns in the News
Sundown Towns have been in the news lately, as more and more communities are learning about their history and taking steps to confront it. A Sundown Town is a towns or city that was deliberately designed to be all-white, by excluding non-whites through a combination of discriminatory laws, practices, and customs.
The term “Sundown Town” was first coined by historian James W. Loewen, who documented over 2,000 such towns in his 2005 book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. Since then, the term has entered the popular lexicon, and dozens of articles have been written about Sundown Towns across the country.
In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center released an interactive map documenting theSundown Towns in all 50 states. The map was based on Loewen’s research, as well as news reports, first-hand accounts, and other secondary sources.
Recent news stories about Sundown Towns include:
-“What It Was Like To Grow Up In A ‘Sundown Town’ In The Midwest” (NPR, 2016)
-“These Small Towns Kept Blacks Out — And Their Secrets For Decades” (Huffington Post, 2017)
-“Why Some Towns Ban Non-Whites After Dark — And What It Says About America Today” (PRI, 2017)
-“In Ohio Town ThatOnce Banned Blacks After Dark, New Book Club Grapples With Past” (WBUR, 2017)