Victor Hugo Green (November 9, 1892 – October 16, 1960) was an American postal employee and travel writer from Harlem, New York City, best known for developing and writing what became known as The Green Book, a travel guide for African-Americans in the United States. During the time the book was published, choices of lodging, restaurants and even gas stations were limited for black people in many places, both in the South and outside it. It was first published as The Negro Motorist Green Book and later as The Negro Travelers’ Green Book. The books were published from 1936 to 1966. Green reviewed hotels and restaurants that did business with African Americans during the time of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the United States. He printed 15,000 copies each year.
In the 1930s, Green began his work by compiling data on stores and motels and gas stations in New York City area that welcomed black travelers, and published his first guide in 1936. Green’s guide was so popular that he immediately began to expand its coverage the next year to other US destinations, adding hotels and restaurants as well. After retiring from the Postal Service, Green continued to work on updating issues of The Green Book. In addition, he developed the related travel agency business he had established in 1947.
Victor Hugo Green, named for the noted French author, was born on November 9, 1892, in Manhattan, New York City. He was the eldest of three children of Alice A. (Holmes) and William H. Green. His family moved and he grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. Starting in 1913 he worked in Bergen County, New Jersey as a postal carrier for the US Postal Service.
On September 8, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York Green married Alma S. Duke (1889–1978) of Richmond, Virginia. She came to New York as part of the Great Migration from the South to northern cities in the early twentieth century. After their marriage, the couple moved to Harlem, New York, which was attracting blacks from across the country. It developed as a center of black arts and culture in the period of the Harlem Renaissance. They lived in an apartment at 580 St. Nicholas Avenue.
Green was employed by the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier. He was subsequently drafted into the United States Army to serve in World War I, even though he had requested exemption from the draft due to his “employment in the transmission of mail.”He served as a member of the Supply Company of the 350th Field Artillery, 92nd Division, rising to the rank of Regimental Supply Sergeant. He sailed for France with his unit on June 30, 1918, from Hoboken, New Jersey on the troop carrier SS President Grant. He returned to the United States from Brest, France on the troop carrier SS Maui on February 16, 1919, landing in Hoboken on the 28th.
As African Americans began to own automobiles and participate in developing American car culture, they were restricted by racial segregation in the United States. State laws in the South required separate facilities for African Americans and many motels and restaurants in northern states also excluded them. “For the Negro traveler, whether on business or pleasure, there was always trouble finding suitable accommodation in hotels and guest houses where he would be welcomed.”
In 1936 Green “thought of doing something about this. He thought of a listing, as comprehensive as possible, of all first-class hotels throughout the United States that catered to Negroes.” He collected information on hotels, restaurants and gas stations that served African Americans for his first edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Since some towns did not have any hotels or motels that would accept African American guests, he listed “tourist homes,” where owners would rent rooms to travelers. His first edition had data for facilities only in the New York metropolitan area. In his introduction, Green wrote:
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 rights and privileges in the United States.
Green created a publishing office in Harlem to support his guide. In 1947 he established a Vacation Reservation Service, a travel agency to book reservations at black-owned establishments. By 1949 the guide included international destinations in Bermuda and Mexico; it listed places for food, lodging, and gas stations. In 1952 Green changed the name to The Negro Travelers’ Green Book. His travel agency office was located at 200 West 135th Street in Harlem, New York.
The Green Book was printed by Gibraltar Printing and Publishing Co. at 800 Sixth Avenue (at West 27th Street) in New York City. The owner of Gibraltar Printing was Samuel Jacob Glener (1904–61). Similar guides had been published for Jewish travelers in some areas. Victor Hugo Green printed 15,000 copies each year of The Green Book, marketing them to white as well as black-owned businesses to demonstrate “the growing affluence of African Americans.” At the time, Esso franchised gas stations to African Americans, when some other companies did not. The Esso stations became popular sales outlets for the book.
Green died on October 16, 1960, in Manhattan, New York City at age 67. After his death, publication continued, with his widow Alma serving as editor, until 1966. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and legal end to racial segregation in public facilities marked the beginning of the guide’s obsolescence; the goal that Green had described in his introduction to the first edition of his work.