The Negro Motorist Green Book was the definitive roadmap for black Americans with four wheels and a yearning to see more of their country. Jim Crow be damned.
First issued in 1936, the book authored by New York City postal carrier Victor Green, was a one-of-its-kind guide telling blacks where they could eat and sleep in safety — and sometimes comfort — during the segregation era. From modest beginnings as a hobby, the Green Book grew to thick editions and a small industry, with some 15,000 copies printed annually by the mid-1950s.
One copy now lives at Minneapolis Central Library, and was highlighted yesterday on its Tumblr blog. As detailed there, the Minnesota section of the Green Book runs to a couple pages in length; that's about a 10th the number of listings in the "Hotel Red Book," which listed all businesses, including those that practiced discrimination.
As you can see, some businesses even took out ads in the Green Book to entice new black patrons.
Here's the full listing of where black drivers and their families were advised to stay, should they be passing through Minnesota in 1961.
Many of the establishments that broke the color barrier won't be familiar to readers under 50, unless that reader is a collector of vintage hotel postcards. The Dyckman Hotel in Minneapolis was imploded in 1979 to make way for the City Center retail and restaurant building. (Think Fogo de Chao.)
The Continental Hotel in west downtown has become the Ogden Hotel Apartments, which gives housing and support services to the formerly homeless. The Francis Drake Hotel, opened as a swanky spot during the Jazz Age, is still around in downtown Minneapolis. But the targeted clientele has changed: Hennepin County rents rooms there for the homeless when its shelters are full, and some north Minneapolis families were stowed away there after the 2011 tornado.
The Normandy Hotel still stands, too, in a way, though it was swept up and renamed as part of the Best Western chain. Still, its old roots — the Normandy went up in 1941 — explain the vintage Normandy Kitchen neon sign out front, and why that building doesn't look like any other Best Western in America.
The Avalon Hotel in Rochester has a wonderful backstory: Verne Manning, a black man visiting the town during his wife's hospital stay, discovered there was no hotel in town that would rent a room to a black man.
So he bought one. The Avalon was a happening place for traveling African Americans of that day. Count Basie and Duke Ellington slept there, according to the Rochester Women's magazine. Today, it's a music store, though the owner named it Avalon Music as an homage to the trailblazing hotel.
One iconic restaurant endured, then closed, but is now on its way back. The Lexington Restaurant, on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, was closed in 2013, but is due for a reopening this year, under new head chef Jack Riebel, formerly of Butcher & the Boar.
For the most part, though, these quietly revolutionary places in the Twin Cities and outstate Minnesota are long gone. They exist only in memory. One hopes some of those memories are fond ones, and are in the possession of elderly black folks from all over America who just wanted a bite to eat and a place to stay the night.