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Black History Month: The Travelers' Green Book 
The "Green Book," a travel guide created for African Americans from the 1930s through to 1960s, was brought to the notice of many people this year through a movie by the same name that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The movie centers on the real-life story of Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American classical and jazz pianist and composer, and his travels in the segregated South of the 1950s. However, there is much more to Dr. Shirley’s life story, who was a talented musician by all standards.

A starting point for learning more about Dr. Shirley is this biographical sketch. While the film has received mixed reviews and criticism for having a white savior narrative and not enough of the actual Green Book in the story, it has introduced a new generation to Dr. Shirley's music and the realities of segregation.

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center has used a photocopy of the 1956 Green Book as a teaching tool for many years. The Green Book illustrates the realities for African Americans traveling in the South during a time when Jim Crow laws allowed businesses to discriminate against people of color, determining where they could stay and eat in America.

The actual title of the book was the “Negro Motorist (later Travelers') Green Book,” and it was published from 1936 to 1966. John Shearer, with the Shopper News, wrote an extensive article on the Green Book, interviewing local historian and civil-rights pioneer Bob Booker, and cross-referencing locations with Knoxville City Directories of the same period.

green book
1960 Travelers' Green Book, cover page

Renee Kesler, President and CEO of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said she “has been using this conversation for years” to share the history of African-American travel with visitors and organizations.

During the final years the Green Book was published, Dogan-Gaither Courts was built at 211 Jessamine Street. The motel advertised itself in African-American publications, such as the Knoxville College’s student newspaper The Aurora.

Advertisement in the Knoxville College student newspaper, The Aurora - 
Oct. 1, 1963

The structure of the Dogan-Gaither Courts still stands, most recently as the business Bittle & Sons. In 2014, the building received funding from the City's Façade Improvement Program. The commercial facade program, managed by the City’s Community Development Department, involves property owners matching City funds to improve the exteriors of buildings in targeted redevelopment areas.

211 Jessamine Street - former Dogan-Gaither Courts

To view historic copies of the Green Book, see The New York Library Digital Collections. Closer to home, the Greeneville-Greene County History Museum is hosting an exhibit on The Green Book through April 2019.

Posted by fmcanally On 01 March, 2019 at 3:21 PM