About the Holiday
Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson in1926 and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.
The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” It explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.
Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
Written by Keila V. Dawson | Illustrated by Alleanna Harris
When Black travelers drove the highways of the United States in the 1920s and 30s and tried to stop at restaurants or motels, they “were told: No food… No vacancy… No bathroom… for Black people.” Instead, Black American motorists had to pack their own food, sleep in their car, and bring their own toilet. “Victor Hugo Green was tired of hearing no…. When he and his wife Alma traveled from New York to Virginia to visit family, they risked getting turned away, yelled at, even hurt.”
At the time, Jim Crow laws in the same segregated Black and White Americans throughout society. Because Blacks had nowhere to stay, they often drove through the night. If Black motorists had an accident, there were no ambulances or hospitals that would help them. In northern and western “sunset towns,” Blacks were alerted to leave town before darkness fell by a siren or a White man waving them out.
One day Victor discovered a Jewish newspaper that published a guide about places that welcomed Jewish people and sold kosher food. “In the 1930s Jewish Americans couldn’t go everywhere they wanted to either.” Reading this guide, Victor had an idea to write a book of his own for New York. As he walked his route as a mail carrier, he began to ask Black friends and neighbors where they ate, shopped, and played safely. He worked on his book at night after work and finished his ten-page guide, The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936; he updated it in 1937.
Victor began selling his book at Black churches and social clubs. Readers asked Victor to include more states in his book, so he wrote to other mail carriers all over the country asking for information. Mail carriers responded overwhelmingly. Over the next two years, Victor and Alma worked to expand the Green Book. With the Green Book in hand, “Black travelers knew where to go and who to trust.” As the popularity of the Green Book rose, Victor collected information from readers and agents Victor hired to add to revisions of his book.
In 1940 the United States government named the Green Book an “‘official Negro travel guide.’” Then Esso gas stations of the Standard Oil Company began selling the book. The Green Book became a best seller. The Green Book spurred new businesses as Black women opened their homes as bed and breakfasts for travelers; it also informed readers about Black accomplishments, history, colleges that accepted Black students, and more.
With two million copies sold, the Green Book “made it possible for Black families to enjoy vacations.” Through the 1950s and 1960s as the fight against segregation and the civil rights movement took hold, the Green Book continued to keep Blacks safe. Victor dreamed of the day when, as he said, “‘we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.’” That day came when, in 1964, segregation was ended by law and the Green Book became less necessary. The Green Book ceased publication after the 1966-67 issue, just as Victor had hoped.
An illustrated timeline takes children along a winding highway from 1892, when Victor Hugo Green was born, to 1967 when the Green Book ceased publication, quotations by Victor Green, and a selected bibliography follow the text.
Keila V. Dawson’s compelling book about Victor Hugo Green’s guide for Black travelers is a powerful tool for teaching children about the history of racial inequality and segregation as well as an expanded understanding of their effects on the lives of Black Americans. While children may be familiar with separate facilities for Blacks and Whites, separate seating on transportation, and school inequality, many will be shocked by travel conditions, the idea that hospitals would not help Blacks, and sunset towns where Blacks were ordered out as the sun went down. While Dawson’s unstinting text will move readers, her storytelling also reveals the resilience of the human spirit and how one man rose above the dangers and prejudice of the time to make traveling and living in America safer for Blacks. The fact that the fight for racial equality continues today makes Dawson’s book an important resource for children to learn not only the exclusion Blacks once legally faced but to make them think about incidents of discrimination that still exist and how they might help bring about a more equitable society.
Alleanna Harris faithfully depicts the times with realistic illustrations that show children how sparsely populated the highway system was, making it even more difficult for Blacks to find welcoming businesses and services. Her image of a Black man driving past a sign that reads “Whites only after dark” as a White man leans against it pointing the way out of town should affect every reader. Children are able to follow Victor Hugo Green and Alma as Victor conceives the idea of the Green Book, and they gather information, and sell the book. They’ll also see the types of businesses mentioned in the Green Book, from gas stations to general stores to movie theaters and private homes where rooms were available for travelers. Interspersed with images of Victor and his work Harris includes illustrations of other familiar ways Blacks were discriminated against.
An important resource for teachers, parents, and other adults engaged in teaching children about American history, the history of civil rights, and the experience of Blacks in America, Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.
Ages 4 – 8
Beaming Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1506467917
You can find an Opening the Road Educators Guide to download on the Beaming Books website.
Discover more about Keila V. Dawson and her books on her website.
To learn more about Alleanna Harris, her books, and her art, visit her website.
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