Tourist Spot

The Untold Story of Route 66 and the Green Book

I grew up in a time when Route 66 was the crown jewel. No other road has captured the enchantment of American passion quite like Route 66.

The “Mother Road” connected urban cities to small rural towns, from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing eight states and three time zones.

Route 66 is a national treasure, known around the world. It has its own famous melody, inspiring not only musicians, but also filmmakers, classic authors and pop culture. The road was famous for iconic gas stations, motels and restaurants.

It represented the freedom to travel in this vast nation. In most of the photos, you’ll see middle-class white families – but the thrilling adventure of seeing all the iconic sites was not the same for all Americans.

Being black and traveling on Route 66 during segregation was potentially deadly. You might assume that the West was more progressive than the South, but in fact, that was not the case.

Segregation was in effect throughout the country. Motels along 66 barred black people, who could not shop, sleep or eat in most white-owned businesses. The majority of communities along Route 66 were all white.

The US Census listed these places as “sunset towns”. Some communities posted signs warning that it was a local law that black people had to leave town by sunset. Outrageous Jim Crow laws meant that if black families wanted or needed to travel, they had to pack extra blankets and pillows, food, water and gasoline.

To solve this problem, Victor Hugo Green, a black postal worker from Harlem, New York, published the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, the black travel bible, from 1936 to 1964, as an international travel guide for the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda. He found a model for his publication in the guides for Jewish travelers published in Jewish newspapers.

Green used a network of colleagues to gather information about their cities and towns across America. All I’ll tell you is to take a look at the Green Book online. If ignorance is the root of prejudice, the Green Book is required reading.

In his introduction to the 1948 edition, Green writes:

“There will be a day in the near future when this guide does not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunity and privilege in the United States. This will be a great day for us to suspend this publication so that then we can go where we please, and without embarrassment.”

WATCH: The quirkiest and most wonderful Route 66 attractions, state by state

Stacker compiled a list of 50 attractions – state by state – to see along the route, drawing on information from historic sites, news reports, Roadside America and the National Park Service. Read on to find out where travelers can get their kicks on Route 66.

Discover the must-see roads in each state