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Carrying a 'Green Book' Was Actually a Thing in this Country

I love my country. The privileges of living here are unparalleled.

That said, I abhor the darkest parts of our country’s history as much as any decent and fair-minded individual.

I recently saw the movie, Green Book. It is a stirring and thought-provoking chronicle of the relationship between two men—polar opposites in every sense of the word. Dr. Shirley, a black man and prolific pianist, is embarking upon a concert tour in the deep south. This professional accomplishment also demands that he secure physical protection, given the era of segregation and naked hatred. This protection comes in the form of Tony Lip, a tough, Italian bouncer from the Bronx who Dr. Shirley hires—and who also happens to be white. Therein begins the story of these two men finding their way through the South, and in the process, unpacking the issues of race, tolerance and the complexities of unlikely relationships.

As I reflect upon the movie, there is much to process. It is moving. The characters are powerfully portrayed and convincing in their imperfections. However, I find myself less interested in writing about those dynamics as compared with another sobering fact.

There was actually a Green Book. I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea such a thing existed.

This book was created by a mailman turned entrepreneur, Victor Hugo Green, during 1936-1966 and the era of Jim Crow laws. The intent of the book was to guide his fellow black citizens through their road trips without embarrassment, harassment or far worse. It provided guidance on everything from which gas stations to patronize, to which repair shops would accept the hard-earned dollars of these black travelers.

When I look at our three children, now young-adults striking out on their own, I consider the existence of the Green Book with a mixture of emotions.

I’m grateful that someone had the generosity of spirit and entrepreneurial impulses to create something so desperately needed for his fellow brothers and sisters. The Green Book, before it fell into obscurity, actually expanded into an international reference guide. I pray that our children have similar inclinations. I also struggle with the question of how many other people – of all races and backgrounds – understand this notable part of our country’s history. How many others would have remained ignorant to the Green Book until they entered the movie theater? And, are our history books doing their part to tell historical truths, absent any personal biases? Finally, I'd like our children to take the time to understand all of their history, including the ugliest parts, even as they shape the course of their futures in a free country—one that I wouldn’t trade for any other in the world.

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