A new play dramatizes a groundbreaking publication that a 1930s-era postal worker wrote to help black motorists during segregation.
The Negro Motorist Green Book, first published in 1936 by Victor Green, a letter carrier in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, offered a directory of black-friendly establishments.
The play, titled “The Green Book,” is set in 1956 and centers on a fictional family whose home is listed in the guide. While celebrating the arrival of W.E.B. Du Bois for a lecture, another visitor, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, arrives at the family’s home, setting off a chain of dramatic events.
“There were no phone numbers in the book, just addresses,” said playwright Calvin Ramsey, who is also co-producer of an upcoming documentary on Victor Green. “You just showed up.”
Green relied on a network of letter carriers who supplied him with the addresses of hotels, restaurants, private lodging and other businesses where blacks were welcome.
Getting permission from customers to send their information to Green was risky, according to Ramsey. “This wasn’t in their job descriptions and most did not know him,” he said.
The play, scheduled to debut March 1 in Chicago, is another example of the renewed interest in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
The Washington Post published a multimedia history of the book last month, including animated videos, photos and interviews with people who relied on the directory when traveling.
Gloria Gardner, 77, a Maryland resident, recalled her mother leafing through the book while her father drove their family on long trips.
“When it was time to stop, you had to know where to stop,” Gardner told the Post. “If you stopped at the wrong place, you might not leave.”
After years of interviewing people whose family businesses were listed in Green’s guide, Ramsey learned that strong customer relationships contributed to the book’s success.
“There was a trust between them and the mail carrier,” he said.