Reviving the Green Book

In 1936 Victor Hugo Green, a mailman from New York, created the Negro Motorists Green Book. As a postal worker, he knew where Black folks could travel, eat, and rest safely. His idea to create, publish, and sell this book protected many a weary traveler in search of gas, food, and lodging. For $0.25, a Black traveler had a guide to Black businesses, key attractions on their journey, and safe places to rest.

Green Book Introduction, USA Today, February 2021
Green Book Introduction, USA Today, February 2021

By 1939 the Green Book expanded beyond the New York metro area to encompass 44 states. Over the three decades it was produced, the Green Book was the AAA road atlas for Black travelers. The publishers believed that this travel guide would become obsolete and by the mid-1960s it was out of publication.

I learned this important piece of Black history in 2018 at a D&I conference. An employee resource group (ERG) leader created a Green Book for BIPOC employees who relocated to company outposts in predominately white cities and towns. The book offered a directory for hairstylists, grocers that carried ethnic products, places of worship, and restaurants that catered to our palate. As a native Oregonian where the Black population has never been more than 2%, I remember offering suggestions to weary women in search of a touch-up, a trustworthy physician, or decent soul food.  

Mr. Green believed his work would be obsolete, but we need a revival.

There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. (The Negro Motorist, Green Book Introduction, 1948)

As Black women navigate corporate spaces with “Belonging” signs posted above the door, we need a Green Book today. A tool that outlines how to reach specific mileposts, what to look for along the way, and when to take an alternate route. A guide to organizations that actually deliver on their DE&I promises of development and representation at all levels. One that highlights the “hidden” pathways to promotion and professional development for weary corporate warriors who move from company to company seeking opportunity, growth, and community.

I speak with BIPOC women regularly about their corporate journey. They encompass all generations, stages, and levels. They arrive ready to fulfill their assignment only to face difficulty, disappointment, and disregard. Their experiences are raw, honest, and often heartbreaking. Traversing unknown routes across corporate America without a guide is unsafe, unwise, and wholly unnecessary. Some BIPOC women need a rest stop to recalibrate for a career transition, whereas others are looking for safety in numbers at an organization where BIPOC women in leadership is less an exception than a rule. Whatever they are looking for, the collective has the data to provide it.

I have taken a page from Mr. Green’s book. This space is dedicated to fellow SBFs, this is your Guide to Corporate America. Here you will find a network of routes to arrive at your destination: the path to promotion, when and how to exit, how to recognize workplace toxicity (and what to do), navigating political landmines, leveraging the office of diversity equity and inclusion. These are just a few areas I’ll cover. And just like Mr. Green, I want to hear from other BIPOC women to include the routes, highways, and interstates they traveled to arrive at their current stop.

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