On Monday, February 25, 2019, the Smithsonian Channel is scheduled to air a special presentation of “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” a first-hand account of historians, business owners and others who experienced the phenomenon of “traveling while black” in pre-Civil Rights America.
The film, which will air at 8 p.m., tells the story of Victor H. Green’s eponymous travel guide that allowed African Americans to safely travel the country during a time of severe institutionalized racism.
Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, also behind “The New Black, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” looks at the daily realities that African Americans faced on the road— the struggles, indignities and dangers, but also the opportunities and triumphs that were won along the way.
While the story isn’t new to the Smithsonian— it won three 2019 Golden Globe Awards— the network also chronicled “The Green Book” in an online
article in 2016 where it noted that for black Americans traveling by car in the era of segregation, the open road presented serious dangers.
While driving on the interstates to unfamiliar locales, black motorists often ran into institutionalized racism in a number of pernicious forms from hotels and restaurants that refused to accommodate them, to hostile “sundown towns,” where posted signs warned people of color that they were banned after nightfall.
Paula Wynter, a Manhattan-based artist, recalled in the 2016 article a frightening road trip when she was a young girl during the 1950s. In North Carolina, her family hid in their Buick after a local sheriff passed them, made a U-turn and gave chase. Wynter’s father, Richard Irby switched off his headlights and parked under a tree.
“We sat until the sun came up,” she said. “We saw his lights pass back and forth. My sister was crying; my mother was hysterical.”
Also, “It didn’t matter if you were Lena Horne or Duke Ellington or Ralph Bunche traveling state-to-state, if the road was not friendly or obliging,” said New York City-based filmmaker and playwright Calvin Alexander Ramsey.
The Green-Book was indispensable to black-owned businesses.
For historians, the listings offer a record of the “rise of the black middle class, and in particular, of the entrepreneurship of black women,” said Smithsonian curator Joanne Hyppolite.
Earlier this month, Comcast, the Smithsonian Channel and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore hosted a private premiere screening for Black History Month, inviting community stakeholders and others, including Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Panelists at the event included Linda Goldman, executive producer of Mission Critical for the Smithsonian Channel and Dr. Dexter Blackman, an assistant professor of History at Morgan State University. Vic Carter of WJZ moderated the event.
“We treasure our engagement in the Baltimore community throughout the year, and co-hosting the Smithsonian Channel’s The Green Book: Guide to Freedom during Black History Month at the [Museum] afforded us a great opportunity to bring authentic programming to our community members and to connect with one another,” said Jessica Gappa, director of Community Impact for Comcast’s Beltway Region.
“It was important for our standing room-only audience to see the Smithsonian Channel documentary which revealed our shared history about travel restrictions imposed on African Americans during the Jim Crow era,” said Jackie Copeland, the executive director of the Lewis Museum. “It is a painful history, and many watching the film learned about The Green Book for the very first time. The Lewis Museum is dedicated to providing space for dialogue about our history and current events. ‘The Green Book’ film allowed us to do that.”
Since its inception, the Smithsonian Channel has been committed to African American history because officials there believe that it’s essential to a greater understanding of America’s national story, according to Linda Goldman, executive producer of Mission Critical for the Smithsonian Channel.
“We found the Green Book story compelling on several levels. It leads us to many fascinating stories, from fabulous vacation resorts like Idlewild, to women entrepreneurs and progressive corporations, to civil rights battlefields,” Goldman said. “If history were a map, the Green Book guides us off familiar highways onto important, but easily overlooked, scenic routes.”