What was the Green Book? New traveling exhibit makes way to IL Holocaust Museum, exploring Jim Crow

'The Negro Motorist Green Book' will be at Skokie museum through April 23

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023
New Skokie museum exhibit explores life during Jim Crow era
What is the Green Book? A new exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute has made its way to the Illinois Holocaust Museum. It explores the Jim Crow era.

SKOKIE, Ill. (WLS) -- A new traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute has made its way to the Chicago area.

"The Negro Motorist Green Book" is now at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.

"The Negro Motorist Green Book" exhibition opened at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie just in time for Black History Month.

The Green Book was a travel guide published from 1936 to 1967, for African American families and individuals, letting them travel safely and with dignity during the Jim Crow era. The exhibit takes you on the journey.

"Carry your Green Book with you, you may need it" was prominent on the publication's cover. A walk through the exhibit shows the difficulties and dangers Black Americans faced while traveling by car, along with the creative ways it was dealt with.

"Not only will they learn about the time period during the Jim Crow era and segregation in the U.S., but what's the really positive, incredibly rich story being told here is about Black entrepreneurship, resistance and honestly resilience in the face of Jim Crow," said Arielle Weininger, chief curator at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

One part of the exhibit lets you take an interactive driving tour during the 40s and 50s along two different routes, one using the Green Book and one without.

There were some 10,000 businesses listed in the Green Book nationwide, from restaurants to service stations.

Visitor Patrick Yarbrough recently discovered a replica Green Book that belonged to his parents.

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"When we'd travel, we would stop on the side of the road to eat food that my mom had prepared. I never questioned what we were doing, and later on I'd look in my parents' photo albums and see them doing the same thing back then," Yarbrough said.

Chicago had more than 200 sites in the guide, most of them in Bronzeville, most of them gone.

The famous Regal Theatre and Savoy Ballroom at 47th Street and King Drive, where Little Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips Part II" was recorded, is now the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

The Sutherland Hotel at 47th Street and Drexel Boulevard, where Louis Armstrong performed, has been turned into luxury apartments.

The Historic Wabash YMCA is still standing at 37th Street and Wabash Avenue, and still provides housing and job training.

"It was also the only place where African Americans socialized and were able to make decisions about what was happening in their community," said Patricia Abrams, executive director of Renaissance Collaborative.

The first Black-owned airport in the country in south suburban Robbins was also in the Green Book. It only lasted two years, but led the way for an aeronautics school to train Black pilots.

There's also a section on Route 66 and the dangers African Americans faced driving it because it went through so many "sundown towns," where Black citizens were not allowed after the sun set.

The exhibit runs through April 23.