Nat King Cole was the first to record the song and the great irony is that while the jazz legend helped romanticize the highway, it was incredibly dangerous for him: Route 66 snaked through cities and towns that were hostile and often violent toward black travelers.
However, touring musicians, like Cole, and other travelers had a secret weapon to bypass racist towns, restaurants, motels, gas stations, and other businesses across the country: The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide to establishments that were safe for and welcoming to African Americans.
…“The Green Book was like a treasure map that led [black travelers] to places that they could stop, from gas stations to food to hotels,” Adams tells Curbed.
…“America was promoting this idea of travel and using automobiles and trailers to explore the country, but it wasn’t something that black Americans had the privilege of doing,” Dexter Wimberly, the exhibition’s curator, tells Curbed. “What Green did was try to construct a space where black travelers can feel like all the other [white] Americans who can travel.”
…“In society, there so many opposition forces to deal with; focusing on the effects of the Green Book would be more enlightening to future generations,” Adams says. “Something so simple as putting a book together can be a way to deal with political unrest; something so simple that you can do on your own can affect people in a constructive way.”