Victor H. Green’s Green Book guides, published between 1936 and 1966 to help Black motorists find courteous service and avoid harassment or the embarrassment of rejection in their travels, have drawn new interest in recent years in journalism, scholarship, and popular culture. In addition to countless news items, recent books by Mia Bay, Gretchen Sorin, and Candacy Taylor and even a Hollywood film underscore the degree to which the Green Book has been a touchstone for explorations of African American travel.
Green Book Cleveland sets out to map and further document the more than four dozen Cleveland-area Green Book sites, as well as dozens more that never appeared in any of its 23 national editions. The Green Book never captured the full range of entertainment, leisure, and recreation sites that African Americans enjoyed. Green Book Cleveland seeks to document Black economic life, from restaurants, taverns, and nightclubs to beauty and barber shop and even the garages and service stations that facilitated travel within and beyond Black neighborhoods like Cedar-Central and “surrogate suburbs” like Glenville and Lee-Harvard. These are mostly stories of small business owners and the clienteles they served, but they extend to stories of struggles simply to enjoy fresh air and cool water.
This project also seeks to recover the stories, many of them receding from memory, of where Black Clevelanders sought leisure and recreation in forests and glens and along rivers and lakes both near and far from the city. Green Book Cleveland documents amusement parks, resorts, country clubs, regional parks, lakes, swimming holes, cabin courts, picnic groves, farms and country estates, and summer camps.
Green Book Cleveland is shaped around an era in which the Green Book was published, which presents challenges and limitations. Focusing primarily on the decades preceding the height of the Civil Rights movement means that oral history is of decreasing prospects as less prominent sites slip beyond the memory of most. Archival documentation is rarely as robust as might be desired – another reflection of the same prejudices that led African Americans to need to devise “places of their own” or agitate and litigate to find admittance to previously white-only spaces. Thus, newspaper articles and advertisements provide the bulk of the evidence to recover stories (and sometimes mere fragments of stories) of Black entertainment, leisure, and recreation.
Green Book Cleveland showcases research done with my students in the Department of History at Cleveland State University and is one of the pilot projects for the PlacePress plugin developed by Erin Bell in the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities under a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It benefits from oral histories conducted as part of the Center’s Cleveland Voices project and insights from concurrent efforts to document Black recreation in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Metroparks, and Summit Metro Parks. We invite additional organizations and individuals to share stories, information, historic photographs, and suggestions for additional sites.