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‘Green Book’ legislation awaits governor’s signature

Green Books were published from 1936 to 1966.

Green Books were published from 1936 to 1966.

During the Jim Crow era, Black Americans traveling the country through segregated America consulted a guidebook — colloquially known as the “Green Book” — to determine which restaurants, hotels and other amenities they could safely visit.

Now, legislation to recognize sites included in the guide with historical markers is heading to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk after earning broad bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly.

House Bill 1968 directs the Virginia Department of Historic Resources “to designate or approve supplementary signs for historic site signs” identifying locations from the Green Book. The signs would be affixed to the bottom of pre-existing silver and black historical markers, similar to signs marking Virginia’s historic trails.

The bill’s patron, Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Feb. 14 that the bill would “preserve the memory of those businesses and those sites that served to Black customers throughout the commonwealth and their contributions to African American history.”

The Green Book, whose full name is “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from the 1930s to the 1960s and provided a list of hotels, restaurants, service stations and other places that were safe for Black people to go to while traveling. In recent years, the guidebook served as inspiration for a 2018 award-winning movie of the same name that helped grow public interest in the book.

Mullin, who is also an attorney at Randall, Page & Bruch in Courtland, told the Senate committee that “approximately 315 sites” are listed in the Green Book in “about 56 cities and towns” in Virginia. Mullin added that, of those, there are about 60 that could have markers under HB 1968.

“These sites are hugely important to our history and I hope that they get the recognition and protection that they duly deserve,” Mullin told the committee.

HB 1968 began its trip through the General Assembly with a review before the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 18.

Several speakers spoke in support of the bill before the House committee, including Chief Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion Officer Martin Brown, who stated Youngkin’s support of the bill.

“We named Green Book sites to our 2021 Most Endangered Historic Places in order to raise awareness of this important history. We thank Delegate Mullin for this legislation and we support it.”

— Elizabeth Kostelny, CEO, Preserving Virginia

“This is, in his view, consistent with promoting all history,” Brown said. “It recognizes not only the disparities that took place but also celebrates the consistent overcoming effort of African Americans.”

Others who spoke in favor of the bill included Susan Hellman, a planner for Alexandria’s Historic Preservation Office who, along with two of her former graduate school colleagues, has been documenting Green Book sites since 2016.

“As Delegate Mullin mentioned, there are about 315 sites total. In driving around, I’ve found that about three-fourths of those are gone — they’ve been demolished,” Hellman told the committee, while saying she “very strongly” supports the bill.

The bill faced no opposition in the committee, with audible laughs from those in the room when committee chair Del. R. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, asked if anyone was at the meeting to speak against the bill. The committee voted to report the bill unanimously.

HB 1968 passed the House of Delegates unanimously in a bloc vote on Jan. 24 before being sent to the Senate, where the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources reviewed the bill on Feb. 14.

Among those who spoke in favor of the bill before the Senate committee was Elizabeth Kostelny, chief executive officer of Preserving Virginia. The organization, a privately funded non-profit historic preservation organization, previously listed Green Book sites among its compilation of “Most Endangered Historic Places” in 2021.

“We named Green Book sites to our 2021 Most Endangered Historic Places in order to raise awareness of this important history. We thank Delegate Mullin for this legislation and we support it,” Kostelny said.

Like in the House of Delegates, the Senate committee voted to advance the bill unanimously. HB 1968 was passed unanimously by the full Senate in a bloc vote on Feb. 17.

As of Feb. 22, the bill has yet to be signed by the presiding officer of each house of the General Assembly and sent to Youngkin. Once receiving the bill, Youngkin will have 30 days to act on it, as per the Virginia constitution.