Victor H. Ring may not have coined the phrase “driving while black”, but he understood first-hand the various roadblocks and bumps in the road for black travelers 80 years ago. The first issue of The Negro Motorist Green Book was published in 1937. In fifteen pages, Mr. Green offered a guide to New York City and state. He stressed making sure your vehicle was in tip-top shape with safety checklists and driving do’s and don’ts. Advertisements for repair shops, garages, and used car sales in Harlem filled three or four pages of the first volume. Businesses in the towns of Pleasantville, New Rochelle, Larchmont, White Plains, Tuckahoe, Mount Vernon and a few across the Hudson in New Jersey advertised restaurants, inns, taverns, and beauty parlors.
Subsequent editions in 1938 and 1939 grew to include entries for all of the 48 states. North Carolina’s entries for Negro travelers during those two years ranged from Wilmington on the coast to Charlotte in the piedmont; no towns further west than Charlotte were listed.
The 1940 edition was the first to include Asheville businesses. Two hotels were listed: The Savoy Hotel at Eagle and Market Streets and Booker T. Washington Hotel at 409 Southside. Other businesses listed were Butler’s Beauty Shop, Wilkin’s Garage; Wilson’s Barber Shop and Wilson’s Tavern. The Palace Grille at 19 Eagle Street was the sole restaurant in the listings. These eight businesses were listed year after year in subsequent editions with few changes.
These eight listings didn’t begin to reflect the actual number and variety of Black-owned businesses—marked with (c) —operating on Eagle and South Market Streets. By my count, the 1940 City Directory listed 69 businesses on those two streets alone. Memorable listings on Eagle Street were the Modernistic Beauty Shoppe, Twilight Shoe Parlor, Asheville Black Tourist Social Club, and Quick Service Café. On South Market you would find The Attux Restaurant, Rite Way Cleaners, and the Colored Public Library.
The Booker T. Washington Hotel at 409 Southside was built in 1928. Management changed frequently over the years. In 1938 it was known as Hotel Chapman and in 1940 as the Criterion Hotel. By 1952 it was renamed the James Keys Hotel and operated as a hotel and residential hotel until the building was demolished in the 1960’s.
1941’s edition of Green-Book listed only two businesses. In addition to the Palace Grille, the Phyllis Wheatley Y.W.C.A at 360 College Street was the sole hotel mentioned. In 1916 a group of women from the Black community purchased a two-story home on College St near Berry Temple Methodist Church, John Hopkins AME Zion Church, and the Allen School for Girls. The building formally opened in 1921 as the Y.W.C.A. In 1938 the two-story building was renovated and a new residential building and gymnasium was added. The building was demolished in 1961 and the Y.W.C.A moved to 194 Asheland Avenue.
The 1947 edition—the first after a publishing hiatus during WWII—added this admonition on the cover: “Carry Your Green Book with you . . .you may need it.“ The subtitle would be included subsequent editions until 1962. In 1952 guide was renamed The Negro Travelers Green-Book and would remain so until 1960.
By 1957 Mrs. S. Foster’s Tourist Home at 88 Clengman (sic) Avenue joined the hotel listings. The others were James Keys/Booker T. Washington Hotel, Y.W.C.A. Hotel, and the renamed Savoy Tourist Homes at Eagle and Market. Mr. Samuel Foster and his wife Laura Jo owned 88 Clingman Street from 1928 to 1965 when Mr. Foster died; Mrs. Foster would continue to live in the house until her death.
In 1960 The Travelers’ Green Book added Do Drop In Barber Shop to Asheville’s listings. Located at 4 Eagle Street and operated by Vernon Miller, the tag line in the city directory that year was “Best Haircut in Town”. Mr. Miller’s barbershop had been listed at the same location in the city directory 20 years earlier in 1940.
Interestingly the 1960 edition also included a listing for another Western North Carolina town: Hendersonville. Hollis T. and Ozzie M Landrum operated the Landina Guest House at 710 1st Avenue West.“ Rooms with Private Bath—Meals That Satisfy” are the descriptive phrases on the back of this postcard. The house still stands on 1st Avenue. The trees and shrubbery have grown over the years, but it looks remarkably the same.
The last edition was entitled Travelers’ Book: 1966-67 International Edition. “For Vacation Without Aggravation” replaced “Carry Your Green Book.” Europe, Asia, Mexico, and many Caribbean destinations were included. In Asheville, James Keys/ Booker T. Washington Hotel at 409 Southside, the YWCA at 194 Ashland Avenue, and Savoy Tourist Homes at Eagle and Market Streets were still listed. Mrs. Foster’s Tourist Home was also listed though Mrs. Foster died in 1967. No other businesses were listed.
I encourage you to visit the New York Public Library’s digital collection of The Green Books. Look up your hometown or home state to see what businesses were listed. It’s an illuminating look into our past.
Also visit this Asheville connection
Posted by Terry Taylor, Friends of the NC Room board member