Memories of “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book”

“The Negro Travelers’ Green Book.”

It was called “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book,” and it was a travel guide to restaurants and places to stay that welcomed African Americans. The 1959 edition only had five listings for Albuquerque: two motels out on west Central, two tourist homes (private residences that rented out rooms to travelers), and one restaurant. This edition did not include the De Anza Motor Lodge, other editions did.

The Green Book was published from 1936 to 1966 by a New Yorker named Victor Hugo Green. It was meant to help avoid awkward, insulting and even dangerous situations for African Americans on the road. The cover stated, “Carry your Green Book with you… you might need it!”

The main road to California in those days, Route 66, came right through Albuquerque. I called Brenda Dabney, whose grandmother had the restaurant listed in the Green Book — Aunt Brenda’s Restaurant at 406 North Arno Street. “She named it after her daughter, my mom,” she told me. “She also had rooms for rent across the street.”

“And on Second Street and Mountain was Miss Bailey’s Tourist Home. She had ordered a two-story home from Sears & Roebuck. It was a beautiful yellow and white house. It’s gone now,” she continued. “We had a lot of schoolteachers that came through. Lots of them were well dressed, middle class people. Most were going to California.”

“We also had a lot of entertainers: B.B. King, Lionel Hampton, John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Duke Ellington. Mr. Ellington wore an ascot. We got to meet him. He was an elegant man. He was dressed casually but in the best clothing. Fats Domino. Chuck Berry. They used to come here. I don’t know where they stayed, but they came to my mother’s to eat,” Brenda said.

“I really loved teachers’ convention time in October. African-American teachers could not teach in Albuquerque Public Schools, but they could teach in private schools and on the reservations. Our restaurant was packed with Black educators. They would come from all over New Mexico. Of course, they all taught on the reservations.”

What powerful memories! One question, I asked her, “Why did Mr. Green stop publishing his book?”

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964. It made Jim Crow laws and discrimination policies illegal. Racism is still alive, but that law did make a difference.”

Thank you so very much for sharing your story, Brenda.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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