A new tour from the Black Heritage Trail of N.H. examines Portsmouth’s history during Jim Crow
Nur Shoop, a tour guide for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, says the North was segregated like the South. It just wasn’t as obvious.
During the Jim Crow era, Black Americans had to be very strategic on their road trips. Many relied on word of mouth and guidebooks to find places to eat, sleep and get gas without fear of violence or discrimination.
A tour from the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire highlights the local stories and vacation spots that Black travelers visited during this period.
Tour guide Nur Shoop joined NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to discuss the origins of the Green Book, a guide for Black travelers during Jim Crow.
Nur Shoop: So Victor Green, who was actually a postal worker from Harlem, New York, he was an African-American and his wife was from Virginia, and they used to travel down South to visit her family. In order to be safe, they had to plan their route, have the maps out and plan exactly where they were going to buy gas, where they would be able to eat, where they might be able to use the bathroom.
So he decided that maybe he should compile a list of places that were safe for other African-American motorists that may be traveling. He wrote to other postal workers around the country and asked them where in their area it was safe for people of color to stop and eat, use the bathroom, buy gas or stay overnight. And he compiled them into a book. His first publication was in 1936, and it was published until 1966.
He did say that he hoped one day people of African-American descent would not have to use the book, but he passed away in 1960 and did not live long enough to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pass.
Rick Ganley: This must have been a real lifeline for Black Americans.
Nur Shoop: It was because, unlike the South, where things were marked clearly where people of color were allowed to go, it was not as clearly marked with the North. People are not sometimes aware that it was segregated in the North, like the South. It's just it wasn't as obvious. So if you stopped in the wrong place, the least you were going to be was humiliated. There were some times people would get locked up or you could get lynched being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rick Ganley: Valerie Cunningham, a founding member of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, did the research that informed this tour that you're leading. What are some of the stories and places on the tour that really stand out to you?
Nur Shoop: I just want to emphasize that it cost money to advertise in the Green Book, and more often than not, people in the area had enough word of mouth referrals that they were booked from the whole vacation season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so they didn't see the need to advertise in the Green Book. So some of these are not in the Green Book, but they were places that African-Americans came and stayed, especially professionals from the South or from the cities that came up here to vacation and have some R&R. So a lot of rich history, really.
A lot of people on the tour are surprised to hear that Wentworth by the Sea, which is in Newcastle, was segregated until 1964. And it had to be challenged by the Seacoast NAACP, where they planned and made reservations and had white people show up and get seated. They would have been witnesses and they were taking notes so that they could challenge it in court because the Civil Rights Act had already passed. But the owner wasn't honoring it.
And then eventually the black couple came and there was a scuffle at the door and it went on for quite a long time, and eventually he buckled. And I guess he realized that there was going to be a court case coming up, and he decided to allow them to sit and he basically had them sit by the kitchen. So I mean, even with the Civil Rights Act, it still had to be pushed.
The final Green Book Tour by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire takes place on Oct. 10, 2021 in Portsmouth.