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‘Green Book’ took top film at Academy Awards, and NC residents can view book that inspired the movie

Bryan Mims, WRAL reporterMarch 2, 2019
The Green Book on display in North Carolina for Black History Month.
The Green Book on display in North Carolina for Black History Month.

The movie “Green Book” generated plenty of national buzz this week after the film won the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards.

But most people in the Triangle may not realize that the real “Green Book” has been on display at the North Carolina Museum of History for Black History Month.

Thanks to a groundswell of interest, the museum has decided to keep the exhibit up through March. The 1959 Green Book sold for $1.25, and history museum patrons can view it on display in the lobby on the ground floor.

The book features black-and-white photos that depict an era, not so long ago, of stark black and white.

To see these images now -- whites only, whites only, whites only -- is to see a picture of a nation divided.

“So, the irony is many people think it was a Southern thing,” said museum curator Earl Ijames.

But segregation existed in New England as well as New Orleans -- just more subtly.

“There were just white and colored sign in the North, so you would have to really know where to go in those instances,” Ijames said.

Thus, the Green Book was a gem in that black-and-white world.

“To be able to stop anywhere along the way and get a hamburger or use the restroom, this was not commonly available to black motorists,” Ijames said.

That’s why Victor Hugo Green, a postal carrier in Harlem, created the Green Book in 1936.

For the next 30 years, it was the indispensable travelers’ guide for African-American families.

It listed black-owned and black-welcoming hotels, gas stations and restaurants in every state.

Ijames said there were over 300 sites listed in North Carolina between 1936 and 1966, Ijames said.

The 1959 edition listed nine places in Raleigh, four in Durham and five in Fayetteville that welcomed black patrons.

The little glove compartment companion now has its name big on the movie marquee.

“I thought it was very good,” Ijames said. “The cinematography is outstanding.”

The movie depicts the story of black pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his tough-talking driver as they travel through the South in 1962.

In one scene, Shirley is shown performing at a white family’s home in Raleigh, but he is directed to the outhouse when he needs to use the restroom.

The North Carolina museum planned this exhibit many months before the movie came out.

“From a historian’s perspective, (it was like) a Shangri-la moment for all these events to culminate with the film actually receiving the Best Film award,” Ijames said.

Replicas of the Green Book are sold at the museum’s gift shop.

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