Hidden History: The Green Book

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — “Segregation, man … it meant you could only stop, get you some gas and keep moving,” Harold McPherson, who lived in Springfield during segregation, said. 

“Can we get some hot dogs? Go on outta here. There was never any accommodations available for African Americans, period.

“If you traveled across country, you either had to have relatives strategically located on the way to California or wherever you were going or you slept at a truck stop pulled off the side of the road and slept. So the green book was this guide that kept you from having to go through these uncomfortable situations.”
 
“They had to know when they went into a restaurant or went to a hotel that they wouldn’t have some sort of terrible confrontation.” John Sellars, the executive director of History Museum on the Square, said.

“Springfield had a very well defined definition of where you could go and couldn’t go, apartheid if you will,” McPherson said.

“In our neighborhood and most of the African American neighborhoods, there were what we call ‘rooming houses,'” McPherson said. “They were places where people could come in and rent a room, maybe get a meal and share a bathroom.”

“Alberta’s was a place for them to stay,” Sellars said. “The Grahams had little three cabins they could stay in. Those were the only two places they could stay. Alberta’s had food, Graham’s had food. … Springfield was no better or no worse than any other place.”

“We could eat at specific places we could go,” McPherson said. “The white places we could go in Springfield had a reservation of, ‘you can’t come in and sit down. You can come in and order at the cash register or you could take it out the back door.’

“For the most part, my parents and grandparents were totally against buying food for these places. ‘Don’t go in there – they can’t cook anyway.’ ‘Why would you go into a place that might spit in your food?'”

“Most African American people didn’t want to be subjected to that sort of ridicule. They didn’t want to go someplace and be subject to that sort of treatment.”

“Which I think explains why a lot of people back throughout the 40s, 50s, when I was growing up, didn’t take vacations.

“It didn’t bother me because it was all that was … I didn’t have anything to compare it to,” McPherson said. “I didn’t say ‘why are they treatin’ us like this?’ This was it, you know? We understood as a kid this was the rules and limitations that you had to abide by.”

“It didn’t come to me till later that this was wrong. I need to protest this … I need to destroy this idea.

“Confrontation sometimes takes very bad directions so I think a lot of people have learned that I’m not gonna change this and confront it by fighting these people.

“I’m going to make my life and move on.”

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