A few weeks ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made comments regarding the impetus for the creation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. DeVos’ exact words were, “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality”. This statement would imply that black students have always been welcome in majority white institutions. As a graduate of an HBCU, I recognize that HBCUs were created out of necessity, at a time when black people were not afforded the privilege of education in majority white schools.
While doing research, I found an uncanny similarity to the creation of the first black business directories – also created out of necessity. There was a time when black people were not allowed to eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, or purchase merchandise from businesses that were white owned.
One of the first black business directories was the Negro Motorist Green Book – published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, during the era of Jim Crow laws. This directory was published at a time where it was life threatening for black people to enter a white establishment. Green refers to his directory, as a guide to “black-friendly” businesses, which is a profound adjective. I purchased the small green pamphlet. It is a priceless piece of history.
Fast forward to 2017...there are still some of us that question the validity and the necessity of black owned business directories. Somehow, we’ve forgotten our history and where we’ve come.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves trying to encourage black consumers to buy black. I would strongly advise doing more research on the context in which the Negro Motorist Green Book was created. Let it be a lesson to all of us – black business directories are still a critical part of our culture.