Memphis—“The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian, will launch a three-year national tour Oct. 3, 2020, at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, which was one of many businesses listed in the publication developed by Victor Green that helped African Americans traveled during the era of Jim Crow laws. The exhibition celebrates this legacy and will be on view at the Smithsonian Affiliate through Jan. 3, 2021.
The exhibition features the cash register, on loan to the Smithsonian, from the Threatt Filling Station in Luther.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with award-winning author, photographer and cultural documentarian, Candacy Taylor. The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Exxon Mobil Corporation, whose network of Esso service stations was instrumental in distributing the “Green Book” during the Jim Crow era.
“Green Book sites are symbols of ingenuity, resourcefulness, entrepreneurship and power,” said Myriam Springuel, director of SITES and Smithsonian Affiliations. “The exhibition examines how these places shape the narrative of African American travelers and presents a story that is not only one of struggle, but also of strength and vitality.”
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” offers an immersive look at the reality of travel for African Americans in mid-century America and how the guide, first published in 1936, served as an indispensable resource for the nation’s rising African American middle class. It includes a variety of objects ranging from business signs and postcards to an original “Green Book.” Historical footage, images and firsthand accounts convey not only the apprehension felt by African American travelers, but also the resilience, innovation and elegance of people choosing to live a full American existence. The exhibition will highlight the success of many African American-owned businesses that made these journeys possible.
“We applaud the Smithsonian and Candacy Taylor for developing such a thoughtful and moving exhibition,” said Darren Woods, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. “We owe a tribute to the men and women who have bravely stood for civil rights throughout our nation’s history. Discrimination has no place in our society, and we hope the ‘Green Book’ exhibition will be a source of learning and inspiration.”
Created in 1936 by Harlem postman Victor Green, “The Green Book” was distributed nationwide until 1967 and provided African American travelers of the era with information on restaurants, services stations and other facilities where they would be welcomed. In an era of Jim Crow and “sundown towns”—communities that explicitly forbade African Americans from staying overnight—this information was not just helpful, it could be lifesaving.