Remembering The Book That Opened The Road For African-American Travelers

Jul 20, 2017

Credit Catherine Zipf

"The Negro Travelers' Green Book" was an invaluable guide for African-Americans on road trips through pre-civil rights America. Now, architectural historian Catherine Zipf, a Bristol resident, is leading an effort to memorialize the travel sites listed in the Green Book, as we hear in this report from RIPR's Chuck Hinman. 

Zipf is spearheading an effort to create posters for each of the 50 states, noting sites that were featured in the Green Book guides. The poster for Rhode Island shows several buildings that remain to this day, including locations in Newport and Providence.

Rhode Island Green Book Poster, with location and history of sites listed in the Green Book
Credit Catherine Zipf

Catherine Zipf
Credit CWZ

Catherine Zipf is an architectural historian in Bristol, Rhode Island. She’s an author and currently serves as the interim Executive Director of the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society. In addition, she’s documenting the travel sites of African-Americans in the mid -20th century, using as a resource The Green Book, a travel guide for the black motorist that was published from 1936 to 1966.

Zipf and her colleagues are creating large-format posters for each state, illustrating the sites listed in The Green Book. For her poster on Rhode Island, she’s located the buildings that used to be tourist homes, hotels, beauty parlors and bars, referenced in The Green Book so African-Americans could know what establishments were safe to stop at while traveling in the pre-civil rights USA. Many of these buildings still stand, but their history as Green Book sites has been forgotten. Zipf’s mission is to resurrect that history for us in the present day.

“It’s such an ephemeral moment”, Zipf says. “It’s just gone. Once you forget the Green Book, you forget the history, if you even knew it in the first place.”

Margaret Porter & Beverly Franklin
Credit Chuck Hinman

Margaret Porter, of Middletown, was reminded of her Green Book use at a recent lecture by Zipf at the Newport Historical Society. Porter lived in New Jersey in the 1950’s and remembers the discrimination she experienced at a certain restaurant franchise (still operating):

“If you went to a restaurant, and you were black, and they didn’t want to serve you”, says Porter, “they would let you sit there and sit there and sit there. They would never come over and take your order.”

On hearing about the Green Book, Porter’s friend in Middletown, Beverly Franklin, realized that she had lived in a Green Book site in Newport. Her family rented an apartment at 26 Brinley St. in the 1960’s. That building was operated as the Glover Hotel, and was listed in the Green Book from 1937 to 1940.

“It was an absolutely beautiful place,” says Franklin. “But at the time I never knew it was in the Green Book.”

As Zipf and her colleagues complete their Green Book poster project, it’s likely more and more people across the country will discover this history.