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Green Book's legacy linked to eastern Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) - It was last published in 1966.

It's because its creator thought with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1956 Voting Rights Act, there wouldn't be a need for it, but during the time of legal segregation, the Green Book was an important tool for people of color.

"It's the Negro Traveler's Guide," said Dr. Earl Ijames, describing the book's official title.

Dr. Ijames is a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

He explains how the Green Book helped people of color safely plan their itineraries while navigating their travels during the 1930s to the 1960s.

"It's critical, of course, because your very life and safety determined where you could go during the era of Jim Crow and legal segregation," said Ijames. "Many times, African Americans, travelers of color, would pack lunches to avoid stopping or pack the Green Book."

The Green Book is the creation of Victor Hugo Green, a postmaster from Harlem, New York.
With his networking as a postal worker, Green was able to create a product that was desperately needed during the mid and latter part of the 20th century.

"America is enjoying its love of automobiles and that also applies to the black community and communities of color, which are beginning to acquire automobiles especially after World War II and the 1950s and 1960s," said Ijames.

Currently, the museum has the 1959 edition of the Green Book on display.

Listed in it are nearly a dozen locations in the East, including one which is still standing in Lenoir County today.

"Mark's Tourist Home is listed in the eastern part of Kinston, which used to be called the black business district part of that city," said Ijames.

Angela Thorpe is the acting director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Thorpe through her work with the commission helped bring the current Green Book display to the North Carolina Museum of History.

It happened after a meeting with an attorney from Smithfield, North Carolina, named Craig James.

"We mentioned that we were working on a project related to the Green Book in North Carolina and Mr. James mentioned 'Hey, I have a Green Book,'" said Thorpe. "He was so willing to donate it to the project. What better way to connect people to the Green Book in North Carolina than to put our Green Book that we have on loan on display."

That connection to the story is in part due to the 2018 award-winning and controversial movie the Green Book.

"It really juxtaposed the genius of Don Shirley who had a white trio who could stay at the five-star hotels, but he was not allowed to," said Ijames. "So, he had to seek a place that was listed in the Green Book.

Despite the sudden increased interest in the Green Book, Thorpe says the museum's current display and the commission's project have been years in the making. 

In the future, Thorpe and her team are working towards developing programs that will connect the Green Book to the legacy of African American travel.

That includes two traveling exhibits that will begin touring the state in March 2020.

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