ACLS Fellow Candacy A. Taylor and the Green Book Project
Friday, July 15, 2016
Posted by: Shannon K. Larson
Candacy A. Taylor is one of three folklorists to have recently been awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Candacy is an independent scholar, award-winning author, photographer, and cultural documentarian. In 2012, she received an Archie Green Fellowship from the Library of Congress for her multimedia project American Roots, which “examines how hair intersects with culture and identity.” Her other projects include Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress – a book and traveling exhibit that features American waitresses over the age of fifty; Moon Route 66 Roadtrip – a Route 66 travel guide that contains stories of some of the highway’s history and most intriguing cultural features; and By the Horns, which “captures the struggle and triumphs of a fearless subculture of female bull riders and bullfighters in America” (“Taylor Made Culture”). This year, in addition to winning an ACLS Fellowship, Candacy has also been awarded a Schomburg Residency at the New York Public Library and a fellowship from Harvard University (Henry Louis Gates Jr. Program). These recent achievements will enable her to continue work on her latest project, which is described by Candacy in more detail below:
Sites of Sanctuary: The Negro Motorist Green Book
Being black and traveling away from home during the Jim Crow era involved a great deal of planning, faith and a reliable travel guide called the “Negro Motorist Green Book.” Victor H. Green, an African American postal worker from Harlem published this roadside companion from 1936-1966. His “Green Book” listed restaurants, hotels, salons, barbershops, taverns, nightclubs, tailors, garages and real estate offices that opened their doors to African Americans. It was considered the “Bible of Black Travel.”
I discovered the Green Book while doing research for a book I was writing on Route 66. During the time the Green Book was in publication, automobile travel symbolized freedom in America and this guide was a resourceful solution to a horrific problem. Although six million African Americans left the south to escape racism — the practice of racial discrimination was in full force throughout the country. The South was infamous for its Jim Crow laws, but ironically it was the lack of formal segregation laws that made the rest of the country even more dangerous for African Americans to navigate, simply because they didn’t know where they were welcome.
Despite the dangers, African Americans ventured out on desolate two-lane highways that connected urban and rural America. During the time the Green Book was in publication, America had over 10,000 “Sundown Towns,” which were all-white communities, many of which posted signs at their borders warning African Americans to leave before sundown. According to the 1930 Census, 44 out of the 89 counties along Route 66 were all white. Once travelers reached a multiracial city such as Albuquerque, their options were still limited. For example, only six percent of the more than 100 motels on Route 66 in Albuquerque accepted African Americans.
The Green Book not only offered safety and convenience, it was a powerful tool for African Americans to persevere and literally move forward in the face of racism. Being an African American woman who drives over 20,000 miles a year documenting American culture, I was struck by the simplicity and practicality of this guide. For me, the Green Book re-contextualized and reframed the all-American road trip. After learning about it, I never looked at Route 66 the same way again.
[The project will] document, evaluate, catalog and archive information about businesses that were listed in the Green Book. Stories behind how and why the owners of these properties chose to integrate their businesses and the problems they faced as a result — will be recorded. I will also collect and archive Green Book-related materials and ephemera such as advertisements, ledgers, menus, sign-in sheets and marketing materials. This data will be used as source material to produce a book, touring exhibition, interactive map, website, mobile app, virtual reality platform, board game and walking tour.
For more information about Candacy’s Green Book Project, visit http://taylormadeculture.com/the-green-book/.
To learn about the other recent ACLS Fellowship winners in our field, go to http://www.afsnet.org/news/298728/Three-Folklorists-Named-ACLS-Fellows.htm.