"The Negro Motorist Green Book" was published by a postman from Harlem, NY named Victor H. Green as early as the mid-1930's. This guidebook has now inspired and become a major motion picture, "The Green Book" is just out in theaters now. (see the end for the great trailer!!)
The great American car culture boom was upon us, and as more and more people took to the freedom of the open roads, Victor recognized there was a dire need to keep African Americans safe as they traveled. As a postman, Victor was well traveled himself, and as he worked his daily routes he naturally picked up the word on the streets. He worked closely with his fellow black postmen compiling lists of black friendly businesses, eventually publishing his Green Book and charging just enough to make a decent profit. It originally encompassed his own NY territory, but demand for his unique book swelled, and it eventually became a nationwide guidebook. It was updated with new businesses each year, until its final printing in 1966-1967. It was Mr. Green's wish that there would be a time that his book would no longer be needed. The Green Book became indispensable for the black traveler- it was twofold: it created a network of safety and also contributed to the success of numerous black-owned businesses.
Clifton's Cafeteria, founded in 1931, was just one of the businesses proudly listed in The Green Book. Clifton's was on the path of the great US Route 66 Mother Road, and travelers and tourists from all over the country, as well as from all over the world, came to this prime tourist destination. Clifton's once prided itself on creating an atmosphere that welcomed everyone, regardless of race, creed or economic status.
In her diaries Vilma wrote about customers who she made friends with, who returned back to Clifton's just to visit with her, shoot the breeze.... and hope to get a date with her for the evening. We know that as a young girl working in 1950's Clifton's, it was a veritable smorgasbord of young single men. Oh yes, the man selection was overwhelming and Vilma took full advantage of it! Some of the more intriguing parts of her 1954-1955 diaries, is that Vilma often dated men of color, had gay friends and often frequented gay bars with her dates. And we can't forget that in 1952 when her 15 year-old best friend Billie Jean became pregnant out of wedlock by her boyfriend, Vilma refused to abandon her when all others did! They remained best friends their entire lives. (read the rest of my 1952 blog for the full story of the tragic young life of Billie Jean.) Tsk Tsk all of this was sooooo taboo at the time!! But Vilma, a strong Catholic girl, was led by her faith just like Clifford Clinton, she saw everyone as only one thing: a child of God. My mother, (although not a perfect saint herself!) strived through her actions, and left these wonderful lessons to emulate: Smile at everyone, say thank you for everything, see God in everyone you meet, see His surprises in whatever happens....
"A Place in the Race"
Racial prejudice continues to be a problem and a blot on the face of America. Our basic ideals call for the freedom and equal rights of all men. By not living up to these ideals, we are the same as denying a practical belief in democracy. And in a world where other aggressive ideologies exist, this is a serious and a shameful situation.
In a country like ours, made up of people from many countries, we are mixed bloods and ancestry. This should make us more tolerant. It is time that some of us drop our superiority complexes and work together for the one great race to which we all belong --- the HUMAN RACE.
~ By poetess Esther Baldwin-York