Author Candacy Taylor’s stepfather grew up in the Jim Crow South. But it wasn’t until she began researching her new book, “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America,” that she started to understand what he’d endured.
Black travelers in 20th-century U.S. might be stopped by police on any pretext — and face serious harassment. They might be turned away by hostile hoteliers or gas station attendants. And that’s not even mentioning “Sundown Towns,” all-white towns that sometimes even featured signs warning black people to stay out in the harshest of terms. Missouri and Illinois were among the five states having the most Sundown Towns, Taylor writes.
And so black men like Taylor’s stepfather turned to the “Green Book.” Victor Green’s book highlighted businesses from coast to coast where black travelers could count on a friendly reception — a respite from the racism and uncertainty that marred other spots on the roadways.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Taylor joined us to discuss “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America” in advance of her reading at Left Bank Books on Thursday evening. She talked about some Missouri towns that were particularly hostile to black visitors and explained why black people don’t always share whites’ nostalgia for Route 66.
Most of all, she stressed that the problems that made the Green Book necessary are far from solved.
“We are in a civil rights crisis of our time — the fact that nearly one in three black young men is in jail,” she said. “I think in 100 years, we’ll look back on this time and be just as horrified at that as we are when we look back on the Jim Crow laws and say, ‘How could that happen in this country?’”
What: Candacy Taylor Book Reading
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020
Where: Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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