The National Blues Museum is proud to announce our latest exhibition, Have Blues Will Travel. This exhibition showcases the hardships and inequality Black Blues musicians faced while traveling to play concerts in the Jim Crow era. Since Black artists were not paid royalties on their songs in the way white musicians were, touring was among the only ways to make money from their music. However, traveling as a Black person, especially in the American south, was incredibly dangerous. On the road, travelers were faced with segregation laws everywhere they went intense discrimination and even violence in some cases. Most hotels and restaurants along the interstate sides were not safe for Black people. Finding an auto repair shop that would help a person of color was rare. From ordinary citizens to professional musicians and athletes, all Black Americans faced this discrimination while traveling for work. With the Negro Motorist Green Book’s help, however, safe spots were identified along major United States roads and highways.
The guidebook was created by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green and was distributed annually, and played a significant role in ensuring Black travelers’ safety. Its first edition covered only the New York region. Still, increasing demand caused Green to expand the guide to cover many of the United States and parts of Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The Green Book was referred to as “the Bible of Black travel during Jim Crow.” Even with the Green Book, traveling as a Black American was incredibly dangerous, as racist Southerners were angry and highly unpredictable. After the signing into law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Green Book gradually fell out of use as segregation became officially illegal. Still, the danger faced by Black travelers did not cease.
Although the Civil Rights Act may have nominally outlawed racism, Black Americans still face great danger while traveling by car. The number of people pulled over by police officers are disproportionately people of color. In times like this, we can look to the past to create a better future. Just this past year, we have seen racial justice protests erupt across the country from citizens hoping for a better relationship between the police and the Black community following the murder of George Floyd. Blues musicians from B.B. King to artists of today like Tef Poe have commented on the struggles of traveling by automobile as a Black citizen. The National Blues Museums’ Have Blues Will Travel exhibition covers Black musicians’ history on the road, including Green Book excerpts, quotes from famous Blues musicians, and more.
Reserve your tickets to the National Blues Museum to learn more about Black Blues musicians’ plight on the road in America, both before and after the Green Book.