Green Book of SC Marks Five Years with Print Edition
The last time the Green Book made its way down a South Carolina highway, the Jim Crow Era guide written by New York postal worker Victor Green told African American travelers which hotels, beauty parlors, and restaurants would be safe respites from both the road and racism.
Over 50 years later, South Carolinians can again stow a physical Green Book in their glove compartments — this time designed to learn about and celebrate African American cultural sites across the state.
“It is a beautiful expression of African American history,” Executive Director of the WeGOJA Foundation Dawn Dawson-House says. “But it’s a travel guide that helps you find these places, engage, explore, and rediscover.
The WeGOJA Foundation assembled the print edition as part of their mission around historic preservation and supporting the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission (SCAAHC). The SCAAHC developed the larger Green Book of South Carolina project with Dawson-house's leadership in 2017.
The print edition comes after five years of building the project’s central website that now houses: a map that features still-standing 20th century Green Book sites, a family reunion toolkit, oral history programs, and an app. The cultural sites in the online Green Book span the entire state, and they’re only growing with crowdsourced contributions and further research from SAAHC.
Dawson-House says website traffic peaks around Black History Month, with other surges around Juneteenth, Memorial Day and Fourth of July (popular long weekends for family reunions), back-to-school, and when Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) open.
“As we discover more things that African Americans would do, and enjoy, we will try to make sure that history is part of that,” Dawson-House says. “History needs to be part of our everyday vernacular; it needs to be part of our everyday walk.”
The book covers 180 of the Green Book’s researched sites. Included in the text are over 80 photographs from Joshua Parks, the Digital Programs and Community Engagement Specialist at the International African American Museum in Charleston.
The Green Book team assembled a spreadsheet of sites and local community leaders to contact, leading Parks to capture what he characterizes as portraits rather than static photographs.
“This project really allowed me to travel the state of South Carolina and get to know a lot of the Black organizers and community members who are still stewards of these sites,” Parks says.
Parks wants readers to appreciate the book’s ability to cover the breadth and depth of the historical legacy those sites represent.
“Black people in South Carolina, and really beyond South Carolina, have really had a long history of etching out opportunities for themselves when it comes to schools, when it comes to businesses, when it comes to organization, institutions,” Parks says. “It just shows that Black people have been struggling for self-determination as a people, as a collective, as a community since we arrived on this continent.”
If you’re looking for specific sites around you, they’re searchable on the Green Book’s website. Dawson-House pointed to the potential for visits to intersect with other resources like their teacher's guide
“The best example we give them is Dizzy Gillespie’s homesite, boyhood homesite and park, because there’s a STEM lesson in the way Dizzy bent his horn and the sound came out different,” Dawson House says.
Dizzy Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina in 1917. Gillespie pioneered the 1940’s bebop musical movement, known for innovative jazz compositions and a boisterous on-stage presence that included his signature bent trumpet — its bell sticking up at a 45-degree angle.
Dawson-House points to lessons about Gillespie’s trumpet as an example of a well-rounded historical approach.
“So in our minds every teacher should be mentioning Dizzy Gillespie when they talk about the speed of sound … there are opportunities to talk about African American history that don’t have to deal with slavery, Civil War, civil rights, segregation and the things we’re normally taught about African Americans.,” Dawson-House elaborates. “Because history is greater than those moments.”
As the Green Book is once again stocked on shelves, Parks hopes the tangible reminder of history will inspire others to keep those opportunities alive.
“I think the Green Book of South Carolina could not only be a treasure for the people of South Carolina but it could be replicated in different states,” Parks emphasizes. “In Georgia, in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana – all these different places in the South, especially throughout the Black Belt South where there’s so many unknown or lesser known cultural heritage sites and many that have been just lost to history.”