Playwright and Author Calvin A. Ramsey on How Black Travel Has Changed Since Jim Crow

Calvin A. Ramsey.  Credit Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times
Calvin A. Ramsey.
Credit Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

The playwright and author Calvin Alexander Ramsey (left), 65, was raised in the South and now lives in New York City.

He is the author of “Ruth and the Green Book,” a children’s book published in 2010, and the play “The Green Book,” first produced in 2005 and published last year in book form. He is working on a documentary called “The Green Book Chronicles.” His work was inspired by Victor Hugo Green, who from 1936 to 1964 published the Jim Crow-era “Negro Motorist Green Book” (its title was modified over time, eventually abbreviated as the “Green Book”) listing locations catering to African-American travelers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda.

Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Ramsey.

Q. Who was Victor Hugo Green and why was “The Negro Motorist Green Book” significant?

A.Green was born in 1892 in Hackensack, N.J. In 1913, he became a mailman. He married Alma Duke, from Virginia, and they moved to Harlem. Around 1936 he started “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” and later a travel agency, as African-American travelers became more affluent. A Jewish friend gave him the idea after showing him guides for avoiding “Restricted,” gentile-only places. With Green’s wife being from Virginia, he decided to make trips less humiliating and reached out to fellow mailmen all over the country. Jim Crow laws were not just in the South. In many smaller towns, there was no Negro hotel. The book listed networks of homes. If African-Americans were traveling by car, that’s when it got dicey, with sundown laws. You’d get arrested, or something worse. His book was a life saver.

What got you interested in Green?

I’m old enough to remember those days, but the “Green Book” found me, at the funeral of a close friend’s son killed in an accident, in 2001. The grandfather said, “This is my first time in the deep South, and I was looking for a ‘Green Book.’ ” And I said, “What’s a ‘Green Book?’ ” It wouldn’t let me go.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Michael Luongo

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