Playwright Calvin Ramsey calls The Green Book a “love letter” to black Americans.
Many of you may not know who Victor Green is. During the segregation era, he penned The Green Book, a travel guide/survival tool written specifically with black motorists in mind. Playwright Calvin Ramsey hopes to change all that with his latest project, called The Green Book Chronicles, NBCNews.com reports.
A mailman by trade, Green wrote and distributed The Green Book for 30 years, from 1936 to 1966, when Jim Crow was at its peak. More than your typical AAA guide or Zagat manual listing, Green’s book was a go-to directory for black travelers who wanted to know how to avoid dangers lurking in the segregated south.
From gas stations and eateries willing to serve black motorists to barbershops and salons that opened their doors to a black clientele, The Green Book helped blacks navigate their way to safe spaces within the jaws of Jim Crow.
Discussing his play with NBC, Ramsey offers his reasons why most people have not heard of a book that circulated among blacks for years.
“Discrimination was so real that not only did they [black travelers] pack their own food; but also their own gas,” Ramsey said. “You never knew when traveling while black what was going to happen to you, and if you had kids with you it just added to the anxiety.”
Victor’s book was a crucial part of helping to ease that anxiety. Which led Ramsey to wonder why even people who worked in an academic setting, an institution committed to producing scholarship and research, did not know the name Victor Green or anything about his book.
“I spoke to college educated people, librarians, and not one time did these people mention The Green Book or talk about how hard it was for us on the road. I think a part of this lost history was due to the pain and embarrassment that black parents didn’t want to pass down to their children.”
Ramsey only learned about the book 15 years ago, in 2001. An old man’s request for a green book — he was the grandfather of a recently deceased family friend, who was looking to travel south for the funeral — that would keep him safe left Ramsey intrigued. He went on a hunt for information and, out of this research, The Green Book Chronicles was born.
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Ramsey was amazed that an old black man living in the new millennium still believed he needed the green book to travel safely through the south.
“Discrimination is a poison, and that’s why we need joy in spite of it all. There was no internet back then to get The Green Book; this was put together with love from black people for each other to keep each other safe. The Green Book to me was a love letter of sorts. There was a time when we loved each other so much that we would open our homes just to keep another black person safe. You could be a superstar, a singer, an artist and in those days still have no place to stay, eat or bathe while on the road, so this book was about the love and ability to preserve our dignity.”
With The Green Book Chronicles — a project that includes a screenplay, children’s books, an opera and a documentary — Ramsey is looking to compose a love letter of his own, one that preserves the memory of this vital artifact of black history.
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