Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America

Abrams. Jan. 2020. 360p. ISBN 9781419738173. $35. HIST
The invention of the automobile in the late 19th century opened new pathways to the vast lands of the United States, and perhaps no one understood this better than African Americans seeking a new place to call home. Author and photographer Taylor chronicles the rewarding but often perilous journeys of black America in a book that is part travelog, part personal long-form essay, and part history lesson. Published to coincide with a multimedia project at the Smithsonian, this work uses the phenomenon of the Green Book—a 1936 travel guide geared exclusively to African Americans—as a centerpiece to explore the popularity of car travel and its relation to 20th-century black history. The Green Book informed motorists of gas stations, motels, hotels and vacation spots friendly to the African American motorist. Here, there are reprints of photographs, advertisements, and articles from historical Green Books, along with modern photographs of actual places taken by the author. These visuals, along with Taylor’s narrative, give readers a sense of the times before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and how society has changed, or, in some ways, stayed the same.
VERDICT An enriching look at African American history through the lens of the black motorist, and as one of the few books on the subject, this is essential for most collections.

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