- Carolyn L. Baker
BHM 2020: “African Americans and the Vote”
Updated: Jan 29
February is Black History Month and the theme for this year is “African Americans and the Vote.” I have a suggested reading for you for Black History Month 2020. It’s a new book that just came out, The Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor.
I attended a book event last night at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA and heard Taylor discuss her journey in researching and writing the book, as well as her views on its overarching importance today. Many of you may have seen the movie The Green Book – this book isn’t that. In fact, the movie the Green Book wasn’t even all that much about the Green Book, but that’s another discussion.
Published from 1936 to 1966, the actual Green Book, started by Victor Green, listed gas stations, restaurants, hotels, etc. that were safe for black motorists, at a time when it was very dangerous for them to travel and utilize white-owned businesses. Says Taylor, Green never made much money from his project, but “his reward was much more valuable…for every business he listed, he may have saved a life.” Taylor makes the incredible history very personal with tales of her stepfather Roy, and the abundance of amazing photographs of the sites. I hadn’t realized that Clifton’s cafeteria in Los Angeles, as well as numerous hotels in the Skid Row area, were listed in the Green Book. Reviewer Lynell George calls the book a ‘meticulously examined history’ of the travel guide. “Taylor’s new book revisits the nesting stories behind the ‘Green Book’, which helped black tourists navigate racial minefields implicit in a road trip – whether across counties or cross-country.” But Taylor’s book is much more than a historical archive. She also touches on present-day topics such as mass incarceration and institutional racism in the book as well, something she has even been criticized for by one reviewer. That Taylor does so is exactly why I am recommending Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America for your reading during Black History Month. As Isaac Reese, opinion writer in the Daily Utah Chronicle (July 19, 2019) explains, “Mass incarceration has targeted and disproportionately affected communities of color, most significantly black communities. One of the many consequences these actions have had is the suppression of the votes of specific voters. Mass incarceration is an effective tool of suppression, in order to perpetuate the reign of the current ruling class.”
With the theme of Black History Month 2020 focusing on the black vote (or the lack thereof), Taylor’s look at the national racism prompting the past need for the Green Book makes an important connection to today. The white supremacy publicly exhibited in Charlottesville did not come out of nowhere.
One thing I found very important about last night’s event with Taylor was the notion of the blessing within the manner in which racism is now being unmasked. Rather than being discouraged about the state of the union, let us be heartened that white people are waking up to our denial, acknowledging racism and calling it out when we see it. Racial inequality has always been present, since day one of the founding of the nation. White people just didn’t see it as such. Although there is still a long way to go when it comes to racial equality in America, that the veil is being pulled back is a critical aspect of The Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America. Happy reading, watching, and listening during Black History Month 2020: “African Americans and the Vote”.
Carolyn L. Baker, M.Ed. is the author of An Unintentional Accomplice: A Personal Perspective on White Responsibility who grew up in segregated Southern California and came of age in the counter-cultural 1960s. www.anunintentionalaccomplice.com
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