"The Green Book: Guide to Freedom"
Premieres Monday, February 25 at 8 PM ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel
On the heels of the Golden Globe® winning film Green Book, Smithsonian Channel is taking a deeper look into the real story of The Negro Motorist Green Book during the Jim Crow era and beyond. The Green Book: Guide to Freedom tells the story of Victor H. Green’s eponymously named travel guide that allowed African Americans to safely tour the country during a time of severe institutionalized racism.
The film features a wide array of experts delving into the history of The Green Book – historians, business owners and individuals who experienced first-hand the phenomenon of “traveling while black” in pre-civil rights America. Written and directed by acclaimed documentarian Yoruba Richen, the filmmaker behind The New Black, this special looks at the daily realities that African Americans faced on the road – the struggles, indignities and dangers, but also the opportunities and triumphs that were won along the way.
During the first half of the 20th century, throughout Jim Crow and continuing into the era of the civil rights movement, segregation was a legal reality in the American South. When African Americans journeyed north and west, however, they encountered racism that spanned the entire country. The fact that discrimination was often unspoken made it even more difficult for black travelers to know if they were welcome – or in potential danger. The Green Book: Guide to Freedom shows how African Americans were confronted with the constant threat of violence – vandalism, assault, even death – while on the road. Even immensely popular performers like Nat King Cole were not immune to this racism; Cole himself was assaulted on stage in Alabama in 1956, and had to stay in segregated hotels when traveling.
The Green Book: Guide to Freedom also showcases the legendary businesses and communities that flourished due to the success of The Green Book. The film tells the story of the rise the African American middle class in Detroit, journeys to the oasis of Idlewild (a vacation community in western Michigan where blacks were able to retreat to their “Black Eden” in peace) and the iconic A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama – a pivotal location in the civil rights movement. The story of The Green Book embodies a quintessential American contradiction – while its creation speaks to the horrors of racial injustices in our past, its success shows the resolve of African Americans to thrive in a world that seemed to root for their failure by means of discrimination, violence and ignominy.
The book’s legacy endures, and though the guide has since been discontinued, Richen points out that it continues to be rediscovered by a new generation of Americans and still serves as “a road map to some of the most significant people, successful businesses and important political milestones of the 20th century.”