The Green Book

was the big winner at this week's Golden Globes.

This odd-couple road movie through the 1960s 'Deep South' took home Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, and best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali - who played Dr Don Shirley to Viggo Mortensen's Tony "Lip" Vallelonga. As a wanderlust-stoking road trip the film has so much going for it.

However, the film's most remarkable accolade is to be the first Golden Globe winner to be based on a travel guide.

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Cover of Victor Hugo Green's 1940 edition of The Green Book. Photo / Supplied
Cover of Victor Hugo Green's 1940 edition of The Green Book. Photo / Supplied

was first published in 1936 by Victor Hugo Green.

The guide forms a list of hotels and motels across America – not unlike an early AA guide – with the aim of providing the "facts and information that the Negro Motorist can use and depend upon."

Plainly put: it was a list of "safe" accommodation and services at which black travellers would not be harassed.

It functioned as a vetted list of services black motorists travelling in the Jim Crow Era, a time when just "driving while black" in certain states was cause for suspicious traffic police.

Speaking to the Smithsonian Magazine on her experience of a 1950s road trip, artist Paula Wynter told of how she and her parents were forced to hide in the family car when driving through North Carolina. Chased out of town by the sheriff,"we sat until the sun came up," she said. "We saw his lights pass back and forth. My sister was crying; my mother was hysterical."

"Sundown towns" advertised curfews stating that "people or colour" should not appear on the roads after dark.

Showing up at the wrong hotel or motel could lead to black motorists being turned away, or worse.

"TUSCALOOSO; TOURIST HOMES; Mrs G. W. Baugh - 2525 12th Street," reads one Alabama entry.

The plain language entries of the guide seems almost euphemistic considering the aim of the guide was to help black holiday makers avoid embarrassment or harm.

The 1941 edition is prefaced by a letter by William H Denkins who wished he had a copy on a recent trip he made, writing: "I'm sure that it would have made the entire vacation perfect."

Denkins does not elaborate on what had spoilt his road trip.

The only word that exposes the edition's political agenda is "Negro", a term even more loaded in the middle of the last century than it is now.

With annual issues from 1936 until 1966, it was updated to include progressive businesses which had inclusive employment policies for black workers, such as Esso petrol stations.

Green Book for Negro Motorists: Black churchgoers drive a Model T Ford in 1936, the year the Green Book is first published. Photo / Alfred Eisenstaedt, Getty Images
Green Book for Negro Motorists: Black churchgoers drive a Model T Ford in 1936, the year the Green Book is first published. Photo / Alfred Eisenstaedt, Getty Images

It was in print for roughly the length of the civil rights movement in the US.

The period was the golden era of the American road trip – when the ideal holiday involved loading up the family car and exploring the country on the freshly built highways and motorways.

The Green Book opened up this sort of holiday to all walks of life.

It was a revolutionary guide.

It even got a mention in Dr Martin Luther King Jr's 1963 speech – "I have a dream":

"We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities," said King, in the Washington speech that would mark the high point of the American Civil Rights movement.

Hotels and Motels: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (centre) gives a press conference in 1963. Photo / Getty Images
Hotels and Motels: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (centre) gives a press conference in 1963. Photo / Getty Images

The motorways, its hotels and travel was a key theatre for the US's struggle for equality.

Eventually the book went out of print in 1966, two years after the Civil Rights Act for racial equality and six years after publisher Victor Hugo Green's death.

In the preface for the 1948 edition, Green wrote the prescient message: "There will be a day in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States."

Mapping the Green Book

For those wanting to make their own road trip though America's romantic and revolutionary roadways, DC based historian Jennifer Reut has put together a blog Mapping the Green Book.

She has travelled the country creating a log of those most iconic hotels and motels at the front of America's battle for civil rights.

Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas: The black owned casino belonging to boxer Joe Louis. Photo / Loomis Dean, Getty Images
Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas: The black owned casino belonging to boxer Joe Louis. Photo / Loomis Dean, Getty Images

Las Vegas, Nevada's Moulin Rouge casino and hotel

America's first interracial hotel and casino, the Moulin Rouge fought against Nevada's strict segregation and wage suppression. It was behind the ending of segregation on the Las Vegas Strip in 1960.

Civil Rights Museum: The Lorraine Motel, TN, marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Photo / Getty Images
Civil Rights Museum: The Lorraine Motel, TN, marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Photo / Getty Images

Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN – now the National Civil Rights Museum

Walter Bailey's Memphis motel was at the forefront of catering to black clientele and some of the eras most successful African-American musicians including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. However, it is most famous as the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in room 306. It was designated as the Museum for Civil Rights in 1991.

The Bronze Buckaroo: Actor Herbert Jeffries (second left) with the cast of the African-American made movie in 1939. Photo / Archive Photos, Getty Images
The Bronze Buckaroo: Actor Herbert Jeffries (second left) with the cast of the African-American made movie in 1939. Photo / Archive Photos, Getty Images

Murray's Dude Ranch, in Victorville, CA

Catering to black patrons, the scenic desert ranch outside LA was also the set for cowboy movies including The Bronze Buckaroo. The 1939 western was one of the first made by African-American directors and performers for African-American audiences, starring black cowboy singer Herb Jeffries.