Exploring Green Books history in Asheville, NC

Published from 1936-1966, Green Books listed businesses where Black travelers were safe to stop.

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Have you heard of Green Books? Created by and for Black people, Green Books listed safe places Black travelers could stop. Locally, some of those safe places were on and around Asheville’s Eagle Street. Let’s explore the history of Green Books and their Asheville connections.

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Green Books were created and published by Victor Green (center). Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What is a Green Book?

Also known as the Negro Motorist Green Book, Green Books were created and published by New York City mail carrier Victor Green.

The inaugural Green Book focused on metro New York, and the response was so great Victor realized national versions were necessary. The books were organized by state and city and listed businesses — including hotels, restaurants, and other spots — that would welcome and make travel safe for Black patrons.

The first Green Book was published in 1936, and the final edition was published in the late ’60s, titled “Travelers’ Green Book: 1966-67 International Edition: For Vacation Without Aggravation.” Interesting fact: the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.

The books were so profoundly important they were described as “the bible of every Negro highway traveler…you literally didn’t dare leave home without it.”

What is their Asheville connection?

There were a total of 327 Green Book listings for North Carolina. 13 of those were right here in Buncombe County and appeared in several iterations of the Green Book. Here are a few that were once located in Asheville:

📗 The Savoy Hotel | 409 Southside Ave. | Formerly the Booker T. Washington Hotel-Dance Hall-Theatre-For Colored, this entry can be found in the hotels category from 1952-1955. Built in 1928, The Savoy had a theater on the first floor, a ballroom, and a lobby on the second floor. The third floor boasted a three-room mezzanine apartment, 20 rooms, and six bathrooms.

📗 Do Drop In Barber Shop | 4 Eagle St. | This barber shop was added to the Green Book in 1960 + was operated by Vernon Miller. The shop’s tagline was “Best Haircut in Town” and it spent 20 years in the same location according to the city directory.

📗 The Phyllis Wheatley YWCA | 360 College St. | This entry can be found in the 1941 edition. In 1913, a group of Black women created the Employment Club, with the goal of helping their members secure work and sponsoring recreational programs. The women bought a building on Market Street three years later for a YWCA branch, but during World War I, they gave it to the US government for soldiers to use. The building was returned after the war and opened in September 1921. For nearly four decades, it was one of Asheville’s primary centers for Black folks to have social activity.

Want more Green Book information? Keep digging here.

And if you want to see some of these historic images up close and personal, check out North Carolina’s traveling Green Book exhibit, “Oasis Spaces: African American Travel in NC, 1936-1966,” currently on view in WNC at the Catawba County Library (115 W C St., Newton).

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