The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was a dignified response to racism. An essay by Carvell Wallace talks about what it meant to be traveling while Black in the two Americas. Above, Gordon Parks photographed segregated Dayton Beach, Florida in 1943.
“The fact that the American Dream presents two very different faces depending on the color of yours is why Victor H. Greene created the Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936….He developed a solution to what he termed the ’embarrassment’ that comes with being refused service for the color of your skin. Greene created a travel guide that listed all the restaurants, filling stations, museums, hotels, guest homes, grocery stores and establishments that readers would feel safe being Black in. The Green Book, as it was affectionately known by Black families, began publishing annually in 1936 and ran for 28 years, growing steadily in listings and readership, and becoming a staple in Black homes. The final issue ran in 1964, by which time the combined forces of the Civil Rights Act and the development of the freeway system made it easier to avoid uncomfortable stops, rendering the book theoretically obsolete.”
Recently, the state of Mississippi ended its inquiry into the 1964 killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, whose bodies were found on a remote road 52 years ago. Nine people have been convicted in the case.
These three young men were part of a Southern voter registration drive, the purpose of which was to extend the franchise granted to every adult American citizen, which is the right to cast a vote. American suffragettes fought for the right to vote for women; many civil rights workers in the 1950s and 60s were beaten and arrested for defending the same principle when it came to African-Americans— one person, one vote.
And then there are the millions of undocumented workers in the United States….
Undocumented workers can’t vote; can’t hold elected office; and make themselves scarce during the decennial census, prescribed by the Constitution, on which congressional apportionment depends. They don’t want to participate in a participatory democracy.
It also distressing to think that both major political parties are willing to encourage this shadow population. Democrats periodically grant waivers to undocumented workers in the hope that their children born or brought to the United States will vote Democratic out of a sense of quid pro quo. Republicans fulminate against the presence of undocumented workers, but derail attempts at raising the minimum wage in order to maintain a cheap labor force deprived of benefits. Undocumented workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in America. They are often victims of unpaid wages, dangerous conditions and uncompensated workplace injuries, discrimination, and other labor law violations.
Regardless, undocumented workers, and their defenders, argue that they deserve consideration and respect because they pay taxes. Workers without fundamental rights who pay money to their overlord are living in a state of feudalism.
That is not what Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman died for.
You can read the mental state of collective America in the design of cars like this one— the strong lines, the accent on innovation, the confidence of big chrome. Until the Vietnam War, American pulchritude and some would say overweening pride, poked through the societal fabric in many ways, not the least of which was a big, fat car from Detroit. After ‘Nam, evidence of feeling puny was reflected in the awful humiliation of Pintos and Gremlins, perfectly emblematic for the truncated Era of ‘Jimmy’ Carter, the president who sat with a legal pad on his lap and asked America to tell him what was wrong and where the boo-boos were (he was one). If we all could’ve gotten a ’68 Olds Bonneville delivered to the driveway, I think we would have felt much, much better. Rank capitalism is good for the spirit, and the odor of leaded gas rumbling from a tailpipe in the morning smells like… victory.
Because I’m a literary biographer who writes about American authors on either side of World War II, and because I grew up then, I’m delighted when I run across a blog post or a magazine feature that illustrates the architecture or taste of the 1950s and 60s. But I have to say, that rooms like this make me itchy. Nobody’s house looked like this, unless perhaps they lived in a no-tell-motel intended for assignations. I suppose that compressing the zeitgeist of an era into an explosion of taste is representative somehow, but it makes me wonder whether other reassembled rooms at historical sites are similarly skewed by the curator’s taste and not really accurate.
Anyway, if people in the Fifties and Sixties had actually lived like this, they would’ve gone mad. See more about the orange house above see MessyNessy Chic. To see 10 classic Midcentury interiors like Birkenstock House, go to Elle Decor.