September 4, 2019

Calvin A. Ramsey To Present W-J Historical Society Lecture

“RUTH AND THE GREEN BOOK:” Author Calvin Ramsey will be discussing the creation and history of “The Negro Motorist Green Book” at the Arts Council of Princeton on September 18 at a fundraiser for the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society. In addition to his children’s book “Ruth and the Green Book” (2010), Ramsey has also written a two-act play titled “The Green Book” (2006). (Lerner Publishing Group)

By Donald Gilpin

The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for African Americans published from 1936 to 1966 during the Jim Crow period of segregation, will be the subject of a lecture by author Calvin Alexander Ramsey at the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society’s (WJHCS) first annual lecture at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) on September 18.

The good news is that African American travel has changed in the past half century since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and, according to Ramsey in a 2015 interview in the New York Times, “There’s no more Jim Crow. So it’s 100 percent better.”

The Green Book stopped publication in 1967, and African Americans searching for housing and food while traveling probably don’t need it any more.

For WJHCS co-founder and leader Shirley Satterfield the bad news was that she and two young teacher colleagues, who drove across the country from Nevada to New Jersey in 1964, didn’t have the Green Book and wished they had.

“Had we had the Green Book, we would have known where to stay to be safe,” she said. “Unaware how dangerous it was,” Satterfield and two other African American women teachers in their 20s took the southern route across the country as mapped out by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Satterfield described problems in Mississippi where they were refused the use of public restrooms and told to go into the woods across the street; motels in Memphis that would not allow them to stay; and a frightening confrontation on a dark road in West Virginia. They decided to take the northern route on their return to Nevada.

She pointed out that three Princeton establishments catering to African Americans, no longer in operation but now included on her Witherspoon-Jackson Heritage Tour, were featured in the Green Book: the Charcoal Inn on John Street, Mrs. Gregory’s Beauty Parlor on Green Street, and Griggs’ Imperial Restaurant across from the Princeton Public Library.

At the upcoming fundraiser, Ramsey will discuss the creation and history of the Green Book. His popular children’s book, Ruth and the Green Book (2010), tells the story of a young girl traveling with her family from Chicago to visit her grandmother in Alabama in the early 1950s.

Ramsey has also published a two-act play titled The Green Book (2006) based on his research into the original Negro Motorist Green Book, which was written by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green. Ramsey, a resident of both Atlanta and New York City, has written 12 plays and two children’s books, according to his website.

The recent movie Green Book (2018), relating the story of the travels of a black singer and his white chauffeur, received three Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 2019.

Ramsey’s lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. on September 18 at the ACP, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Admission is a tax-deductible $35, with an added $15 for an autographed copy of Ruth and the Green Book. Children age 12 and under are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased in advance by sending checks payable to WJHCS at 190 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542.