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three women, one girl, and one man all Black, sitting in chairs waiting
Waiting at streetcar terminal for cars, Oklahoma City, 1939. Russell Lee, photographer..

A “Reliable Source” for the Assurance of Adequate Accommodations

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In June 2017 the Washington Post featured a story about The Negro Motorist Green Book published from the mid 1930’s until the late 1960‘s and used by African American travelers in the United States. I had heard about them and figured we had them, which we do (New York Public Library has digitized a number of them), but I was also interested in knowing if there were any similar publications.

Cover of United States Travel Bureau Negro Hotels and Guest Houses 1941 United States Department of the Interior.I went looking and found A Directory of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses published by the Department of the Interior in 1941 when Harold Ickes was its Secretary. It had been cataloged as a book, and although the preface indicates there was an idea for “subsequent editions,” I didn’t see any others, so this may have been a one-time publication.

The preface indicated that the Travel Bureau wanted to develop the “nation’s physical, economic, and social welfare by encouraging more Americans to travel in their own country.” It went on to say:

This Directory of Negro Hotels and Guest houses was developed with a view to contributing a reliable source of information for Negro travelers through the United States. It is believed that the Directory will facilitate the promotion of travel to the extent that only the assurance of adequate accommodations can effect.

It wasn’t very big and the presentation wasn’t particularly sophisticated, but it, like the Green Books, provided a vital service to African American travelers. Most of the 18 pages were state-by-state listings with the city/town, hotel/personal name, and location. There were a few pages that included separate listings for the Negro branches of YMCA, YWCA, and a few other places.

Sometimes a listing was for an individual home, as in the case of A. L. Stitt (possibly Aaron L. Stitt) at 204 South Park in Helena, Montana, while other listings were for actual hotels. The snip here is the listing for Louisiana. As you can see, there weren’t many for the entire state.

A photo from the page on hotels in Louisiana, with the route, hotel name, and address. Given that jazz and New Orleans go hand in hand, it was a destination for many African American musicians and performers and, of course, they had to stay somewhere.

Several of the places in New Orleans were on or near South Rampart, which makes sense given the area’s connection to the history of jazz and proximity to music venues. Of them, there was the Astoria, which was more than just a hotel – its dance hall was known as the Astoria Gardens and hosted Duke Ellington and Count Basie, among many others – and was owned by Henry E. Braden. There was also the Page Hotel, whose owner, Allen Page, was also a local baseball promoter of the day.

These two men were not only tied into the New Orleans jazz scene, they were tied into the local community.  There were Braden businesses at or near 235/237 South Rampart for many years. Going back to at least 1911, the city directory listed a saloon at 235 and Braden was mentioned in The Crisis in the November 1915 “Men of the Month” column (p.169) as the proprietor of a hotel and “a business man of ability.” As for Page, his 1942 WWII draft registration form indicates he was born in Port Gibson, Mississippi, but he had moved to New Orleans by the time of the 1930 Census and it indicates he was a hotel porter.  A 1932 city directory indicates that by that time he had his own hotel and owned it through the 1940’s.

While this title only included accommodations, the Green Books included more information – though always with travelers in mind. To compare these with the title I found, I looked at the 1941 edition. Many of the accommodations weren’t all that different. While there was a separate section for tourist homes – Mrs. F. Livaudais, N. J. Bailey, and Mrs. King –  the hotels listing did include the Astoria, Patterson, Chicago, Paige, Riley, Palace, and New Roxy.  They also had entries for a beauty parlor, a barber shop, a taxicab company, two restaurants and two taverns, and a car repair shop owned by E. L. Marsalis (Ellis Louis Marsalis Sr., whose son and grandsons are such a part of American jazz).

This directory, like the Green Books, filled a need for African American travelers of the day, but it also provides a window into the African American business community across the country.

Update: When I wrote this post in early 2018, the Library had not digitized any copies of the Green Book. Since then, the Library has digitized and made available a few editions  – one from 1946 and one from 1958 that has Airline Edition on the cover.

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