The Negro Motorist Green Book and Route 66


Route 66. No other road has captured the imagination and essence of the American spirit. It connected urban and rural America from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing eight states and three time zones. This national treasure is famous around the world for having its own soundtrack. It has inspired musicians, and filmmakers, and classic literature, and popular culture. It is the most celebrated highway of its time. The Mother Road was an artery that nurtured communities with busy gas stations, motels, and diners. Route 66 symbolized progress, prosperity, freedom, and the American Dream. The iconic images of Route 66 are of white middle-class families hitting the road in the airstream trailers to visit kitschy Americana landmarks. But the experience of driving Route 66 was not the same for everyone.

(Piano music)

Being black and traveling Route 66 during the Jim Crow Era was potentially life threatening. It was assumed that the West was more liberated than the South, but in fact, racial segregation was in full force. Blacks couldn’t shop, sleep, or eat at most white-owned businesses. Almost half the counties along Route 66 were all-white communities. The 1930s Census listed these places as sundown towns. Some communities posted signs that blacks had to leave by sundown.

To address these problems, Victor H. Green, a black postal worker from Harlem, New York, published The Negro Motorist Green Book from 1936 to 1964. This national roadside companion featured restaurants, hotels, barbershops, beauty salons, taverns, garages, and gas stations that were willing to serve blacks. Green said he wanted to give the negro traveler that will keep him from running into difficulties and embarrassments. But it was much more than that. It was an essential road trip companion that provided invaluable, possibly lifesaving, information. People called it the Bible of Black Travel.

During Jim Crow, black people traveling in the West avoided small towns and aimed to stay in cities, but it was still difficult to find lodging. According to a 1955 newspaper, only 6 of 100 hotels in Albuquerque admitted black people. Route 66 mirrored this shameful chapter in American history. It took courage and resolve to be listed as a Green Book property. These business owners who provided food, shelter, and services were taking a stand against racial segregation.

Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 and many of its businesses closed their doors. Research has documented an estimated 350 businesses that were advertised in black traveler guides. Harvey Houses also accepted blacks along with modest tourist homes and other businesses. Many have since fallen into disrepair. Less than half are still standing. These sites of refuge represent the struggle and the triumph of finding a warm meal and a safe place to rest. These properties play a critical role in revealing the untold story of the African American experience of travel. More research will shed light on this rich and complex history of Route 66 and the pursuit of the American Dream.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice.” —Mark Twain

(Written and produced by: Candacy Taylor at

(Produced in association with:)

(Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program
National Trails – Intermountain Region
National Park Service)

(Co-Producer: Sophie Dia Pegrum)

(Photography: Candacy Taylor)

(Music: Kevin McCloud)

(A Presentation of the National Park Service, US Department