Minneapolis library houses an original 'Green Book' made famous by Oscar-nominated film

The Oscar-nominated film “The Green Book” tells the story of an African-American pianist on a tour of the southern states in the 1960s, but here in Minnesota, green books laid out safe places to eat and sleep, too.

In fact, many Minnesotans would recognize the names of some of those places.

“Green Book” chronicles a road trip taken by a white driver and a black classical pianist through a tour of the south in the 1960s, but the movie is named after a real travel guide that was vital to many African American travelers when segregation was rampant.

The Hennepin County Library System has an original copy of the Negro Traveler’s Green Book from 1961 at its Minneapolis Central Branch.

New York Postman Victor Green started publishing the guide in 1936 to help black travelers find hotels, restaurants and businesses across the country where they wouldn’t be discriminated against during the era of Jim Crow Laws.

“Everything in this book was a to-do guide,” said Antonio Backman, a librarian. “These were the places that were vetted to be welcoming to African-American travelers. They were either owned by African Americans themselves or African Americans had been there and made sure they were ready for other people to come and visit.”

Most of the Minnesota destinations listed in “The Green Book” are long gone, but the Lexington Restaurant on Grand Avenue in St. Paul re-opened a couple of years ago, while the Boulevard Motel in South Minneapolis is still there, except it’s now known as The Metro Inn.

"Even though no one checks out this book for its original purpose, it has this second life now here in the library as a historical marker that racism existed here and across the south. It also has this list of spaces some of them very special to the African American community,” Backman said. 

Phyllis Wheatley House in North Minneapolis is one of those spaces where visiting black celebrities had to stay because downtown hotels wouldn’t take them.

"Langston Hughes stayed at the Phyllis Wheatley house and many other African Americans stayed at the house because that was the only place that was available for African Americans,” said Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa, of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.

The Green Book fell out of favor after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places, but at least one local historian says it deserves a permanent place in African American history.

"It’s critical,” African-American Historian Mahmoud El-Kati said.“It may be beyond category. It’s important to know the things black people had to do in the face of discrimination which no other groups had to do in the same way."