The U.S. is a nation of many illusions–political, economic, and historical. We live by myths taught us by many political, economic, educational leaders. Historically, the leaders at the top have virtually all been elite white men, and today most are still elite white men. By various means they regularly try to tell us, their public, what to think about the most important contours and realities of this society, in regard to its past and present. Among many other strategies, they encourage much ignorance about our real racial history, indeed about much of our history.
Recently, significant attention has been paid in some in the liberal/left media to the The Negro Motorist Green Book, a publication that guided African American travelers to the relatively few places they could comfortably eat, sleep at, or make gas/pit stops across the country in the Jim Crow segregation era. Wendell Alston writes in the 1949 edition of this important guide:
“The Negro traveler’s inconveniences are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling, individually and in groups.”
From 1936 to 1964, Victor H. Green, the publisher, a postal clerk (the much-maligned public employee today) who put out some 15,000 copies of the guide to dealing with Jim Crow segregation. We as a country have forgotten just how extreme this white-generated totalitarianism of Jim Crow actually was. Many Black travelers would travel across the South, daring not to stop in most places — at all, for any reason. Too dangerous.
This totalitarianism also covered all major aspects of African American lives practices in our southern and border states, and numerous northern areas, for many decades before 1936–and in the extreme totalitarian slavery system before that.
Jim Crow also did not die everywhere until the 1970s. And then it was followed by other types of everyday discrimination in public accommodations and many other areas.
For NPR, civil rights leader and former NAACP chair Julian Bond remembered this:
Bond tells NPR’s Neal Conan that he remembers his family using the Green Book to travel in the South, to find out where we could stop to eat, where we could spend the night in a hotel or in somebody’s home.
Few Americans today know this history. And that recalls the comment that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Is this still true?