“Navigating Jim Crow: The Green Book and Oasis Spaces in North Carolina,” a traveling free exhibit, opens today and will run through Sept. 10 at the Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center in Brevard.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was published between 1936 and 1966. It listed businesses including restaurants, hotels, guest houses, drug stores, nightclubs, barber shops and beauty salons that African Americans were permitted to use during this time of legal segregation. More than 300 businesses were located in North Carolina.
The exhibit narrative explains how this book was used as both a tour guide and a tool of resistance designed to confront the realities of racial discrimination in the United States and beyond.
Tyree Griffin, director of the Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center, said it is important for Transylvanians to learn about this history and he welcomes individuals, groups, families and their friends to see this new display.
“This is how Black people back in those Jim Crow eras were having to maneuver through the ups and downs and the pitfalls that came with living in America at that point in time,” said Griffin. “Whether we want to digest it or not —it happened.”
The book read: “There will be a day sometime 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. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”
The N.C. African American Heritage Commission (AAHC), a division of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, created the exhibit. Oral histories were collected in 2018 and 2019 from African American travelers and Green Book site owner descendants.
Eight vibrant panels form the exhibit, showcasing images of business owners, travelers, historic and present-day images of North Carolina Green Book sites.
The unsegregated sites or “oasis spaces” allowed African American communities to thrive, according to a press release, for a variety of African American travelers during that time.
The exhibit is available during the Center’s opening hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Griffin requests groups or families larger than six people let him know ahead of time to coordinate their visit by emailing email@example.com or calling (828) 376-9303.
“It’s important for everyone to understand the hidden parts of history,” said Local History Librarian Laura Sperry.
“The Green Books were a way for African Americans to be able to travel safely around the country — it was a resource for them so that they would understand places that were safe,” she said. “By understanding those stories, we understand an experience that’s different than our own, and that’s what the LEGACY project is all about.”
The Green Book exhibit arrives in Brevard just in time for the upcoming LEGACY Project.
Starting Aug. 24 this grassroots public education program will delve into local African American history and provide lived-experience narratives.
The project is a collaboration between the Center, NAACP and Transylvania County Library’s Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room.
“A main part of the mission of the Center is to expose both Black and white citizens to an honest presentation of African American history with an emphasis on local history,” said Susan Threlkel, co-chair of LEGACY’s steering committee.
“You would be surprised how many young people in the Black community do not know their own history,” said Threlkel. “Several of us on the steering committee participated in 1619 community discussion groups that happened a couple of years ago. The membership is pretty close to half and half Black and white and we are striving to make the class be the same.”
Thirty community participants will receive a clear description and analysis of Black history in America and together will work to better understand and gain knowledge of local Black Americans, their history, culture, communities and accomplishments. The program will also provide opportunities for self-reflection.
Eight evening sessions will cover the following topics: the idea of America and the significance of slavery (Sept. 7); economics and business (Sept. 21); healthcare (October 5); culture: arts, music, design and cuisine (Oct. 19); law and justice (Nov. 2); sports (Nov. 16); education (Dec. 7); the role of churches (Jan. 4); and the lives of Black women (Jan. 18).
“This is a pilot program because the format is different and we need to see if this is the best way to deliver the history,” Threlkel said. “I can assure you it has been one of the hardest ways to create. Our hope is that this is something that gets repeated — possibly every three years or more often.”
A feasibility study will also take place, where participants will provide feedback and subjects will be refined for future presentations.
The steering committee includes co-chairs Threlkel and Edith Darity, Tommy Kilgore, Laura Sperry, the Rev. Carter Heyward, the Rev. Spencer Jones, Diana Refsland, Sim Cozart and Dan Carter.
Organizers are striving to gather a diverse group and are considering ethnicity, age, occupation, education and residence in their selection process, to bring together different perspectives and experiences.
There are still some open spaces. Applications can be picked up in person at the Center and are available for digital download via The Transylvania Times online version of this story.
There is a $100 application fee to participate. There is a sponsorship fund available upon request.
Checks can be made out to: Community Focus Foundation, P.O. Box 215, Brevard, NC 28712 with “LEGACY Sponsorship” written on the memo line.
“One of the goals of LEGACY is to encourage its participants to become ambassadors in the community to spread the word about local African American history,” said Threlkel. The Center “has begun this process and encourages all residents to visit the displays and exhibits in the cultural center.”