Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Negro Motorist Green Book

Fifty years ago, I was born the Civil Rights Act was passed. The Negro Motorist Green Book provides a good example of how difficult travel was for African-Americans before passage of the Act. Published in the 1930s-1960s, this book listed places where travelers could shop, stay, eat and get gas without being refused service, or suffering a much worse fate. A copy of the 1949 edition can be found here

The book lists accommodations by type for the United States as well as Canada, Mexico and Bermuda. Here is a sample page.
Unfortunately there are no maps. I was curious about what this would look like on a map so I decided to pick a city and map the addresses. I chose Memphis for several reasons. It's a good size (not too many points, but enough to make it interesting) and it's a place I'm entirely unfamiliar with so I would not have any preconceived expectation of what the map would show. One final random reason is that I had flipped to the Tennessee page when thinking about this project. Click the map below for better legibility.
I used a well-known mapping service to locate the addresses and ArcGIS Online for the background maps. A few assumptions on street names were needed. Landerdale and Lauderdale were assumed to be the same street as were Beale St and Beale Ave*. Unsurprisingly there is a clear cluster one side (south) of town, while almost nothing on the other side. Here is a detailed map of the south side cluster.
Most of the businesses were located near the Beale Street music district, almost certainly not a coincidence. Of course, the landscape is very different today. Most of these businesses are gone, the street pattern has been altered and there was no FedEx Forum (or FedEx, Memphis Grizzlies, or Disney on Ice) in 1949. Here is a blueprint map I was able to dig up from 1949. 
The passage of the Civil Rights Act has made the Green Book obsolete so fortunately for travelers today my map is just a historical curiosity, not a necessary guide.

* This assumption appears to be correct based on the blueprint map.

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