KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the United States, the Jim Crow era spanned from the late 19th century to 1965. The era was defined by Jim Crow laws that enforced racial discrimination and segregation.
Jim Crow laws allowed “sundown towns” to flourish. Sundown towns were all white towns that forced Black people to leave by sunset — or else. The “or else” regularly involved beatings and public lynching. Those acts of discrimination and violence were often supported by law enforcement officials.
Black travelers during this period desperately tried to avoid these areas. However, when traveling through a strange city, they often had no way of knowing if they were in danger.
In the 1930s, New York City mailman Victor Green had the idea to compile a travel guide that helped Black travelers avoid possible life-threatening encounters. He called it “The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
“To give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable,” Green wrote.
The book contains thousands of addresses with one thing in common: They were all safe havens for Black travelers.
Eight Kansas City businesses were listed in the 1940s edition of the Green Book, and four of those structures are still standing today.
The Thomas Wilson home, located at 2600 Euclid Ave., was a single-family dwelling that housed travelers who came into town. It’s currently being renovated to resemble its former glory.
The Vallie Lamb home at 1914 E. 24th St. also served as temporary lodging for Black travelers. The current owners have lived there for several decades. However, they were unaware of the significance of their home until FOX4 gave them a visit in 2018.
The Green Duck Lounge, found at 2548 Prospect Ave., was a popular spot in town for community activists and political leaders during this era.
The Parkview Hotel at 10th and The Paseo provided lodging for travelers and is currently housing dozens of Kansas Citians as an apartment building.
Missouri U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who was also the first black mayor of Kansas City, said growing up, his parents never left home without their Green Book.
While in college, Cleaver got caught in the sundown town of Bowie, Texas, and barely escaped.
“We were hiding and trying to jump on the roads to hitchhike, just trying to get out of there,” he said.
It’s been 54 years since the last edition of the Green Book was published, and today Kansas City is home to more than 100 Black-owned businesses.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the progress was birthed by outreach.
“Really making sure that we are not just laying out small business relief or not just laying out that there’s a program. You’ve got to talk to people,” he said. “You’ve got to get to the streets. You’ve got to outreach.”
Dorothy Hines, who teaches African American studies at the University of Kansas, said even though this country has made immense strides, the work toward change is far from over.
“We have the first black Asian Vice President and first woman so that should be enough,” she said. “But there’s always more that needs to be done because the fight for equality and justice never ends.”