A plaque representing the original "Green Book"
A plaque representing the original "Green Book"

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was filled with people and purpose Tuesday night as Comcast and the Smithsonian Channel hosted a private screening of a new documentary, “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom.”

The 50-minute film featured stories of historians, business owners and families who were able to thrive thanks to efforts of Victor Green, a New York postal worker who between 1936 and 1966 annually published the “Negro Motorist Green Book” that served as a road guide to friendly services and places for traveling Blacks.

“The Green Book is more than just a book. … It is evidence of our history, our fears, our pleasures,” said Yoruba Richen, the filmmaker of the documentary that premieres Monday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. EST on the Smithsonian Channel.

The 335-seat Oprah Winfrey Theater was packed for Tuesday night’s viewing. The film included archival footage of a generation of African Americans who were forced to deal with peril as they traveled back to Southern cities they left seeking a better life.

Many in the audience smiled and nodded their head as they watched footage of families packing up big cars and station wagons for those road trips. Many African-American hotels blossomed in the ’40s and ’50s and Green’s book continued to grow.

The documentary is a real-life complement to the Oscar-nominated film “Green Book,” which tells the story of pianist Don Shirley and his Italian driver who travel across the county. Veteran news anchor Bruce Johnson, who moderated the panel, said, “I should have seen this movie first.”

Comcast Vice President Donna Rattley Washington said she is proud that company partnered with the Smithsonian Channel to air such a powerful film.

“As a third-generation Washingtonian, I am thrilled that we can bring his story to the Washington area,” Washington said. “I can remember my dad saying, you don’t cross the 14th Street bridge and enter the very prejudiced South. This is personal to me.”

Joan Hippolite, curator of the National Museum of African American History, said they have an interactive museum dedicated to the real stories of the Green Book.

While many saw the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other gains during the civil rights movement as historical, it marked the beginning of the end of many African-American-owned hotels and restaurants. But today there is an effort to revive venues such Idilewild in Michigan, the AG Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama, and Alberta’s in Columbia, South Carolina.

“It is so powerful that this event is happening now when the association has named as its Black History Month theme ‘Black Migrations,’ and the Green Book was a big part of Black migrations,” said Sylvia Cyrus, executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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