"Negro Motorist Green Book"
More than just a guidebook for African American travelers.
Green Book sites hold incredible historical significance as they are tangible reminders of how terribly our country has treated African Americans.
Whether it was information on the location of Sundown Towns or details on where to eat, lodge, or have fun without fear of discrimination–or, worse–harrassment and lynchings, the Green Book was ‘the Bible of Black travel’ and is notable as being one of Black America’s best kept secrets. It was also an indispensable resource for Black-owned businesses and aided the rising Black middle class.
From 1936-1967, the Negro Motorist Green Book (aka the Green Book) was a guidebook with a directory of safe places for Black travelers to stop. Green Book sites are historically significant as places that African Americans were welcomed to seek refuge; a safe space for Black people when traveling during Jim Crow segregation. According to the National Park Service’s website, “a recent survey of the locations of Green Book sites by ethnographer Candacy Taylor found that of the thousands of Green Book sites on record, only 5 percent are still in operation and more than 75 percent are gone.”
The Green Book was started by Victor Hugo Green, a Harlem postman, who began publishing it as a guide for African Americans in 1936 He was concerned with the way Black were discriminated against when they left the safety of their homes. As a postal worker, he was uniquely positioned to develop this guidebook with the help of his Black network of postmen. In its first edition, only one city was covered: New York City. In subsequent publications, more and more cities were added to the list, including Cincinnati, which showed up in 1939.
Green Book in Cincinnati
Unfortunately, today, there are very few Green Book sites that remain in Cincinnati. Before major thoroughfares (like Martin Luther King Boulevard and Interstate 75 and 71) came through and demolished significant portions of the lower West End and Walnut Hills, there were vibrant Black communities that were thriving enclaves. These places were home to important Black businesses and institutions that catered to their community, thus becoming excellent places for African Americans (particularly those that are traveling) to refresh themselves and relax. Although the West End and Walnut Hills had the most listings in the Green Book, there were a few outlying sites that were not concentrated in the aforementioned neighborhoods. One was the Bryant’s Snack Shop & BBQ, in the Evanston neighborhood. According to maps, this was the northernmost Green Book site in Cincinnati.
Today the lower West End, which is now a combination of paved and industrial landscapes, sullied by mid-20th century urban renewal practices, has no remaining Green Book sites. In fact, the development of Interstate 75 and Queensgate neighborhood (starting in 1959) physically, socially, and economically erased the Black heritage of the West End including its Green Book sites.
Fortunately, there is one neighborhood where you can find a handful of extant Green Book sites – Walnut Hills. Thanks to the Walnut Hills Historical Society, who documented the locations of Green Book sites and made a corresponding map, we can see exactly where the existing buildings are and the demolished ones used to be. Two notable Green Book sites in Walnut Hills, the Edgemont Inn and Manse Hotel, are buildings that have been preserved and are in use today. Edgemont Inn is now the Harriet Beecher Stowe House Museum and the Manse Hotel is now a multi-residential apartment building that serves the community.