Feb 17, 2023 - News

San Antonio's "Green Book" histories spotlighted by local students

A copy of a 1940 Green Book.

Multiple San Antonio addresses designated as safe places for Black travelers are listed in various editions of "The Green Book." Photo: Michael A. McCoy for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Decades before The Shops at Rivercenter became a tourist destination or boxy homes popped up in the East Side, addresses from Commerce to Mesquite were part of the national "Green Book," which listed businesses Black travelers could safely visit during the Jim Crow era.

Driving the news: Many of the "Green Book"-designated safe places in San Antonio were demolished, but Texas A&M-San Antonio students are working to preserve the history with an interactive map powered by QR codes that will be placed at the addresses on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Though San Antonio gives much attention to preserving Texas history, many of these local Black stories have disappeared.

What they did: Professor Pamela Walker's history course researched 21 addresses that were listed in the "Green Books" and "Grayson's Travel and Business Guide" from the 1940s to the 1960s in partnership with the San Antonio African American Community Archive.

  • Research included oral history interviews with relatives of the business owners.
  • The work culminated in articles for each address, which are linked in an interactive map.
  • Of the addresses, only a handful of buildings remain, including the Carter-Taylor-Williams Mortuary at 601 Center St., which is still in business. Other sites, like the Nolan Hotel, are abandoned.
  • Students brought to life forgotten sites with articles telling the stories of popular beauty shops, the importance of Black funeral directors and vibrant scenes at the Mason Hotel.

East Commerce Street addresses make up a chunk of the "Green Book" destinations.

  • Walker tells Axios the sites were lost as areas on the East Side were razed to make way for redevelopment, including the construction of The Shops at Rivercenter, which opened in 1988.
  • "Like so many other cities, Black community businesses and neighborhoods have been victim to urban renewal and that's led to some of the erasure," Walker said.

What they're saying: While the travel books highlight the segregation Black people endured not too long ago, Walker says they also show how the community carved out opportunities for enjoyment.

  • "The narrative is not just about being excluded, it's about making your own space and creating your own opportunities. I think that's the richest aspect of this story."

Zoom out: SAAACAM started in 2017 and opened the La Villita exhibit space in 2020. Museum historian Cristal Mendez tells Axios the goal is to highlight Black stories that were previously overlooked, including the "Green Book" sites.

  • "The research will never stop, this is just the beginning of the 'Green Book' history," she says.

What's next: The public is invited to join Walker's students as they unveil the historic markers at six sites on Wednesday.

  • Tickets for the 2pm bus tour were limited as of Thursday afternoon.

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