An African American's travel guide for survival in segregated America

Black travel guide

ATLANTA -- There was a time when travelling black Americans seldom felt the freedom of the open road.

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Curtis Graves CBS News

“When you pulled up to a service station, a restaurant, a hotel, you never knew what was going to greet you when you walked in,” said Curtis Graves, 78.

Graves remembers seeing America in the 1940’s and ‘50’s from the back seat of his parents’ car.

“We went to California, to Florida, to Chicago. We went all over the place,” he said. “I can remember my dad stopping for gas and they would look at me and look at him and say ‘sorry we don’t have any gas for you.”

Black customers were routinely refused service, and in so-called “sundown towns,” African Americans knew if they were caught after sundown they could face physical attack.

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The Green Book CBS News

Victor Green, a New York City postal worker, created a travel guide called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” He collected references from other black letter carriers to create a state-by-state list of accommodations open to everyone.

A.C. Howard’s parents used Green Books each summer to drive from Chicago to Mississippi.

“I’m going to tell you the truth. It got worse as soon as you left Chicago,” Howard said. He agreed that the Green Book was like a survival guide.

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Green published 15,000 copies a year from 1936 until 1966. it helped families like the Graves’ and Howards navigate segregated America.

‘It gave you the feeling that when you left your home, at least you wouldn’t be embarrassed or demoralized by the experiences of the harshness of segregation,” Graves said.

A rare copy of the Green Book recently sold $22,000. But to a generation of travelers, the comfort it gave was priceless.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.