Green Book Cleveland is a restorative history project of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Our main collaborators are ThirdSpace Action Lab, Cleveland Metroparks, Summit Metro Parks, Ohio & Erie National Heritage Area, Trust for Public Land, and Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. With help from community members, we are preserving stories of Black leisure and entertainment in Northeast Ohio.
Green Book Cleveland originated with research by Dr. Mark Souther and his students in the Department of History at Cleveland State University and is one of the pilot projects for the PlacePress plugin developed by Erin Bell in the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities under a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It benefits from oral histories conducted as part of the Center’s Cleveland Voices project and is informed by community projects that include Chocolate City Cleveland and Akron Innerbelt.
Victor H. Green’s Green Book guides, published between 1936 and 1966 to help Black motorists find courteous service and avoid harassment or the embarrassment of rejection in their travels, have drawn new interest in recent years in journalism, scholarship, and popular culture. In addition to countless news items, recent books by Mia Bay, Gretchen Sorin, and Candacy Taylor and even a Hollywood film underscore the degree to which the Green Book has been a touchstone for explorations of African American travel.
Green Book Cleveland maps and further documents Northeast Ohio Green Book sites, as well as places that never appeared in any of its 23 national editions. The Green Book never captured the full range of entertainment, leisure, and recreation sites that African Americans enjoyed. Green Book Cleveland seeks to document Black economic life, from restaurants, taverns, and nightclubs to beauty and barber shop and even the garages and service stations that facilitated travel within and beyond Black neighborhoods like Cedar-Central and “surrogate suburbs” like Glenville and Lee-Harvard. These are mostly stories of small business owners and the clienteles they served, but they extend to stories of struggles simply to enjoy fresh air and cool water.
This project also seeks to recover the stories, many of them receding from memory, of where Black Clevelanders and Northeast Ohioans sought leisure and recreation in forests and glens and along rivers and lakes both near and far from the city. Green Book Cleveland documents amusement parks, resorts, country clubs, regional parks, lakes, swimming holes, cabin courts, picnic groves, farms and country estates, and summer camps.
Green Book Cleveland is shaped around an era in which the Green Book was published, which presents challenges and limitations. Archival documentation is rarely as robust as might be desired – another reflection of the same prejudices that led African Americans to need to devise “places of their own” or agitate and litigate to find admittance to previously white-only spaces. Thus, newspaper articles and advertisements have provided the bulk of the evidence to recover stories of Black entertainment, leisure, and recreation. Although older or less-prominent sites are slipping beyond the memory of most people, the project is embarking on collecting oral histories that will shed new light on Northeast Ohioans’ part in this larger national story.
Green Book Cleveland invites additional organizations and individuals to share stories, information, historic photographs, and suggestions for additional sites.