The Oscar-winning 2018 movie “Green Book” is based on the guidebook for black people traveling by car through the United States during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. It was an era of “Whites Only” water fountains downtown, and suburban developments that promised “no negroes” allowed.
This was on the mind of Harlem mailman Victor Hugo Green in 1936 when he published “The Negro Motorist Green Book” listing hotels, road houses, restaurants, etc., that welcomed African Americans. It would become famous simply as the Green Book. It promised to make the reader’s journey “more enjoyable” if not perfectly safe, formalizing what for years had been passed along by word of mouth.
In the years that followed, the scope of the book expanded to cover not just New York City, the focus of the first volume, but all of the South and West all the way to California. The 1939 edition was the first to include Fort Worth. It listed two hotels, the Del Rey on Jones Street and the Jim on East Fifth.
Though Fort Worth had a sizable black population and four or five identifiable black neighborhoods, public accommodations for black travelers were sparse. The Jim Hotel was owned by Oscar and Levi Cooper who had bought it from Bill “Gooseneck” McDonald, who named it for his wife Jimmie. It was not only a nice place to stay but its club room was the center of black music culture in Fort Worth. It fell to the wrecking ball in 1964, and today the site is a parking lot behind the old Fort Worth Press building.
At this time most black out-of-town visitors stayed in the private homes of middle-class blacks. This was true for Marion Anderson, the great opera diva, when she performed in Fort Worth in 1939 and 1941, and later for Martin Luther King.
In subsequent editions of the Green Book, the list of Fort Worth accommodations expanded, reflecting both the growth of tourism among African Americans and the opening of more places catering to black travelers. In 1947, for instance, two restaurants and a service station were listed. One of the restaurants was part of the Negro YMCA on property on Jones Street donated by Bill McDonald in 1939. The service station was belated recognition that black motorists also had to gas up their cars on road trips.
In 1956, the Clover and Mohawk hotels joined the listings. The Clover was in the Rock Island Bottom, a black neighborhood in the Trinity River bottom just east of town. The Mohawk, like almost every other black business of note was on the eastern edge of downtown in the area stretching from Sixth to 16th and Calhoun to Jones.
In 1957 and ’58, new additions to the listings included the Monterey Hotel and Rose Cliff restaurant on the Near South Side in the middle-class black neighborhood that had sprung up along Rosedale and Terrell streets.
The 1966 edition included the same familiar names. But the times were “a-changing,” as Bob Dylan sang. It was two years after the Civil Rights Act had decreed an end to segregated public accommodations. Leonard’s Department Store was in the forefront, taking down its “Whites Only” signage starting in 1962.
Construction of the North-South freeway and Tarrant County Convention Center had wiped out many black businesses and residences, and what had once been a thriving black business district on Calhoun and Jones had been taken over by industrial properties and parking lots.
In the 1948 edition of his book, Victor Green had predicted the day was coming when such a guidebook would no longer be needed because “we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.”
In 1966, the first Green Book appeared with no reference on the cover to color. Presumably it was for all travelers who desired a “vacation without aggravation,” though all the listings were still for the comfort and convenience of black travelers. It was the last year the Green Book was published.
Author-historian Richard Selcer is a Fort Worth native and proud graduate of Paschal High and TCU.