A link to the past: The Green Book reveals Kansas City homes’ connections to black history

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a widely forgotten book used to help African-Americans travel The United States during Jim Crow laws.

The Green Book

FOX 4's Sherae Honeycutt spent the past few weeks digging into The Green Book's history in the metro.

For 30 years, the tiny book helped black motorists travel the country with possibly a little more confidence than before.​

Elmer Jackson III used The Green Book as a young man.

"It was something that was necessary, first and foremost, to help black Americans travel the highways and byways of this country safely," Jackson explained.

Victor Green, a New York postman, first published the book in 1936.

Elmer Jackson III

For 25 cents, the nearly 50-page book gave readers a state listing of restaurants, hotels, night clubs, and some people even offered their homes.

"I recall us going through the city, going to the outskirts of town, down a dusty road, dirt -- unpaved road to this house," Jackson said.

Jackson said his grandfather introduced him to the book.

"It was a necessary document to have. Everything that black folks have really done in this country have been a result primarily of being able to survive. Doing what`s necessary to survive and make your way," Jackson said.

However, Jackson's connection to The Green Book is deeper than its cover.

"Well, it's quite a surprise. I was totally unaware of that until you told me about it," Jackson said.

Elmer Jackson Sr., his grandfather, is thanked by Green on page four.

"The best description I'd have for him is that he was a gentleman. He was very proper but not stuck-up proper. Very down to earth, but very gentlemanly and refined," Jackson recalled.

His grandfather was a postman who loved to travel, just like Green, and used the book to stay at homes like the one on East 24th Street in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Our house is in there too? Wow!" Patricia Jackson said.

Birdella Jackson, 81, and her daughter Patricia live in the house that her sons found for her around three decades ago.

"This house, on this block, in this neighborhood played such a significant role during that era, a dark era in American history, but this house had a significant value to it," Birdella's son Clifford Jackson said.

Before FOX 4 told them about the history of the house, they had no clue.

"We're learning a lot today. This is incredible for us to understand what is going on here, and the significant role this house played in history. It's not just Kansas City history, but it's American History, and this is incredible that we're standing on historical steps," Birdella's son Marvin Jackson said.

The house looks much different than it did back then, and through tax assessor photos from the 1940s, FOX 4 was able to see how it changed.

Bradley Wolf, with the city's historic preservation office, was able to dig into their records to find a photo of the property.

Wolf was also able to find a photo of another green house at the end of the same block that was demolished years ago.

"This what you're trying to capture now is just another example of so much of our history that has been swept under the rug, or obliterated, or forgotten, and unless somebody like yourself or others try to document it, it will be forever lost, and that's sad," Elmer Jackson said.

Now, both families can write this in their history and pass it down for generations to come.

"Black history is part of American history, and I think when we get to the point where we recognize that they are indelibly connected, they are connected to the point where there doesn't have to be a black history month. It's American history," Elmer Jackson said.

Original copies of The Green Book are considered historic documents, and original copies can go for tens of thousands of dollars.

If you would like to view copies of The Green Book online by year, you can visit the New York Public Library's archive or purchase a replica copy on Amazon.