Travel

Retracing the Legacy of America’s Premier Black Travel Guide

Writer Candacy Taylor spent years traveling to hotels, diners, and rest stops from the original Green Book.

Hyoung Chang/Contributor/Denver Post/Getty
Hyoung Chang/Contributor/Denver Post/Getty
Hyoung Chang/Contributor/Denver Post/Getty

More than just a travel guide, The Negro Motorist Green Book was quite literally a lifesaver for Black people navigating America’s roadways during Jim Crow. Published between 1936 and 1967, the guide catalogued hotels, rest stops, diners, clubs, and resorts that could be trusted as welcoming safe havens for Black travellers.

With its signature green cover, the guide was published annually by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green, with the hope that one day, it would become irrelevant. Today, The Green Book is a lasting artifact from the Great Migration-one of the largest, most rapid internal migration movements in American history, when at least 6 million Black Americans fled the oppressive south for cities in the north, east, and west.

Along the way, The Green Book was an invaluable resource that helped shape Black travel and Black communities. This is the legacy that Candacy Taylor explores in her book Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America. The author and cultural documentarian spent years travelling to the original sites listed in The Green Book, interviewing past and present business owners to better understand the guidebooks’ role in shaping our recent history.

In 2020, we talked with Taylor about Overground Railroad, her travelling exhibition with The Smithsonian, and some of the historic Green Book businesses you can still visit today.

Thrillist: Tell us more about the original Green Book and what it meant to Black travellers escaping the south.
Taylor:
The Green Book served as both a lifesaver and an anchor for Black Americans seeking community outside of the racist south. A lot of the Green Book sites were clustered in predominantly Black neighbourhoods, and pretty much every state had its own mini version with a lot of Black businesses and entrepreneurs. It was crucial for mapping out driving routes, since stopping at the wrong place could literally get you killed. It was helpful for vacation planning as well as for people who wanted to discover Black neighbourhoods or support Black businesses away from home.

Jay Reeves/AP/Shutterstock
Jay Reeves/AP/Shutterstock
Jay Reeves/AP/Shutterstock

What was it like to visit these sites and meet some of the business owners listed in The Green Book?
Taylor:
Obviously it was really difficult to find these people, but it was also incredibly inspiring. These are living testimonies that capture the changes within these neighbourhoods, and what they looked like when they were listed as a Green Book site compared to how they are today. The fact that some of these small Black-owned businesses are still functioning and still alive is a miracle in itself and something to celebrate. I’m also working on preserving them and nominating some of them to the National Register.

Cheryl Gerber/AP/Shutterstock
Cheryl Gerber/AP/Shutterstock
Cheryl Gerber/AP/Shutterstock

What were some of The Green Book listings and stories that stood out to you in your research?
Taylor:
It was an honour to meet with Leah Chase from Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans. I think she was 95 when I interviewed her and she was still a firecracker. Meeting people like that was incredibly inspiring for me, but it was also meaningful for the people involved. When I interviewed Leah Chase it was just me and my camera woman and it meant a lot for her to have two women interviewing her.

Then there’s others like Murray’s Dude Ranch in Apple Valley, California. It’s no longer around, but it was a dude ranch that was originally owned by a Black couple, the Murray’s, and later by actress Pearl Bailey. It was completely integrated, and the first place where Black and white children swam together in that part of the country. All of these stars would come, like the boxer Joe Louis and his entourage. It allowed Black travellers to experience this incredible piece of American history, this cowboy culture, which many would never have had access to.

The back of my book has a list of all the sites-not comprehensive, but a good sampling of the sites that are still with us. I encourage people to dive into that.

Cbl62/Wikimedia Commons
Cbl62/Wikimedia Commons
Cbl62/Wikimedia Commons

How does Overground Railroad contend with the shift that’s occurred in Black communities since the publication of The Green Book
Taylor: It wasn’t until I was on the road for almost two years and really spending more time in these communities that I realized this is not just a book about a historical guide and that it would be a great disservice not to interrogate the present in response to this history. That means looking at the incredible poverty, mass incarceration, redlining, gentrification, and other government policies that shaped the ways these communities turned out.

Ɱ/Wikimedia Commons
Ɱ/Wikimedia Commons
Ɱ/Wikimedia Commons

You’ve curated a Green Book exhibition that’s going to be touring with The Smithsonian through early 2025. What can visitors expect from that? 
Taylor: It will begin in the fall [2020] at the National Civil Rights Museum [in Memphis]. The exhibition contains a wealth of film, photographs, art, and oral histories, including historical artifacts from the Smithsonian and Green Book sites, rare copies of different Green Book guides, business signs, brochures, signs from “sundown towns,” and other historical documents.

So for example, even though there’s nothing left of Murray’s Dude Ranch today, they were once featured on the cover of Ebony Magazine and in Life Magazine so we have a lot of materials that tell the story of what it was like to have this Black dude ranch in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I’ve dug around there in years past and found some old horse shoes from Murray’s and was able to feature those in the exhibition.

I’m also developing a mobile app to help people do a deeper dive into these Green Book sites. We’re building the prototype now and figuring out how far we want to take it in terms of augmented reality features and VR stuff. There are a lot of different ways to learn about and engage with this history and for other people to share their stories. It’s exciting to unearth our past.

Candacy, thanks so much for speaking with us and sharing these photographs from your research.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Purchase Candacy Taylor’s book, Overground Railroad, here. You can find more information about the travelling Green Book exhibition that Taylor is curating with The Smithsonian here

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Danielle Dorsey is a Southern California writer who covers travel, culture, and current events, with an emphasis on the contributions of the African Diaspora. Her work appears in Lonely Planet, Culture Trip, Essence, Zora Magazine, LAist, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and browse her writing at DanielleDorky.com

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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