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How Black people used the Green Book to travel safely through Jim Crow America

"African American travelers in areas outside the South, including California, needed the Green Book’s guidance," said Amanda Meeker with the California Museum.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Through a new traveling exhibition, the California Museum is giving the public a look inside the Green Book.

During the Jim Crow era, Black people used the pocket-sized book to find safe and friendly accommodations throughout the country. The travel guide listed establishments that served Black people, like hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other accommodations.

Discriminatory laws and practices made traveling dangerous for people of color. Along the nation's highways, Black travelers were routinely denied access to basic essential services, according Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). 

While traveling, it was unsafe for people of color to stop in an unfamiliar place. They carried the risk of humiliation, threats, and racist violence.

Credit: California Museum

"Visitors may be surprised to learn that African American travelers in areas outside the South—including California—needed the Green Book’s guidance," said Amanda Meeker, California Museum Executive Director. "The Green Book really helped people navigate and be able to enjoy all America should offer everyone. But we still have a ways to go."

Credit: California Museum

Victor Green, a Black postal worker, entrepreneur and innovator, created the Green Book by using contacts in the U.S. postal service. According to the NMAAHC, Green also used input from traveling salespeople and business owners to complete the list of establishments in the book. He partnered with the Standard Oil Company to distribute the book at Esso gas stations.

The Green Book was published from 1936 to 1966. In the 1952 edition, eleven establishments are listed in the book from the Sacramento area, including the historic Dunlap's Dining Room in Oak Park. 

As part of the exhibition at the California Museum, Sacramento's connection to the Green Book is highlighted through a supplemental display of artifacts, images and memorabilia.

Credit: California Museum

“We’re honored to present this important exhibit and to spotlight local Green Book-listed businesses,” Meeker said. “Our supplemental display adds to the national exhibition with artifacts and historic images of the Oak Park restaurant Dunlap’s Dining Room, along with the Mo-Mo and Zanzibar nightclubs, where Black and white Sacramentans came together to hear jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Charles Mingus."

The exhibition was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) with author Candacy Taylor and sponsored by Exxon Mobil Corporation. 

It will be on display at the California Museum from Dec. 4 to Feb. 27., as an exclusive Northern California stop on a nationwide tour through 2024. 

For more information, visit the California Museum website.

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