In search of a vacation without aggravation

green book cover 1956 nypl

From the cover of the 1956 edition. / via New York Public Library

This year the New York Public Library digitized editions of The Negro Motorist Green Book, which aimed to guide African-American travelers to establishments and accommodations that would serve them during the Jim Crow era. From an introduction in the 1963 version of the book:

Most people who 'go on holiday,' as they say in England, the Caribbean and other places where the accent is English, are seeking someplace that offers them rest, relaxation and a refuge from the cares and worries of the work-a-day world.
The Negro traveler, to whom the Travelers Green Book has dedicated its efforts since 1936, is no exception. He too, is looking for "Vacation Without Aggravation."
Of course, this is no surprise. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the Congress on Racial Equality, the Students Non-Violence Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Association and other groups fighting for minority rights make it very clear that the Negro is only demanding what everyone else wants... what is guaranteed all citizens by the Constitution of the United States.

This article over at Vox by Dara Linda provides context and background for the guide's creation, and illustrates some of the difficulties African Americans faced while on the road during the period.

We were curious if there were any Albany establishments mentioned in the Green Book. So we scanned through the various editions online and found a handful. We're looking forward to doing some more research on some of the establishments and people. But we figured we'd post the list and what we've found so far now because we're betting there are some other local history nerds who might be able to provide some leads and insight...

Hotels: Hotel Broadway - 603 Broadway
A hotel at this address is mentioned in the Green Guides from 1947 to 1959 (where it's called the "Hotel Broadway"). Unfortunately we're drawing a blank on it -- but we suspect someone might have a lead.

Other hotels mentioned in the 1959 version of the guide include the Kenmore Hotel (the building's still there on Pearl Street) and the White Birch Motel on Route 9, 15 miles north of Albany.

Service Station: Ten Eyck - 137 Lark Street
We couldn't find a specific mention of this service station (yet), but a 1967 ad in the Knickerbocker News mentions a differently-named station at that address (Fine's Esso Service).

Beauty Parlor: Beulah Fords - 96 2nd Street
Beulah Ford operated a beauty parlor and what sounds like a beauty school/beauty products sales business of some sort. An 1923 ad in the New York Age, an influential black newspaper, mentions the "B. M. FORD System of Beauty Culture" with "day and evening school now open":

Shampooing, hair dyeing, singeing, hot oil treatments and all kinds of electrical scalp treatments taught and their necessity. Hair weaving, electrical face massaging and manicuring. One trial of Mme. B. M. Ford's preparations will convince you that they have no equal.

We get the impression Ford was a prominent member of the Arbor Hill neighborhood and the city. She's frequently mentioned in articles about her involvement in various organizations like the the Booker T. Washington Center and the Red Cross. There are also mentions of her traveling around the country to conventions and events as an organizer for the National Beauty Culturists' League.

Barber Shops: Martin's - 4 Van Tromp Street
We came across a few mention of a Martin's Barber Shop or a Martin Barber Shop, some in other spots around the city. A 1942 item in the New York Age mentions that Louis Dixon, a barber at the shop on Van Tromp, was moving to New York City (Queens, it looks like) and would be setting up at a barber shop there.

Night Club: Harlem Grill - Hamilton Street
The Harlem Grill appears to have been "Big Charlie's Harlem Grill" at 52 1/2 Hamilton Street, at the corner with Dallius Street. That spot is now a parking lot. (It's in the group of parcels near the bus station.)

harlem grill ad times union 1941
via Fulton History

The Harlem Grill was apparently a cabaret and night club and a hot spot during the 1940s. A 1941 ad in the Times-Union touted it as "Big Charlie's Harlem Grill / Headquarters of Hi-De-Ho / Hot Music / Spot Numbers -- Dancing." (There's a 1942 article in the Knickerbocker News about city fire and code officials requiring the club to add an exit to the club portion of the building for fire safety.)

Night Club: Rhythm Club - Madison Ave
The Rhythm Club was at 61 Madison Ave -- on the portion of Madison Ave at the bottom of the hill in the flat section near the river. So, it would have been about two blocks from the Harlem Grill. It looks like the building was knocked down to make room for the arterial connecting to the ESP.

We get the impression the Rhythm Club was a spot for jazz and big band acts. (Jazz trumpeter Bobby Booker mentions playing there in the book Hot Jazz: From Harlem to Storyville by David Griffiths, which is about sidemen who played in big bands during 1930s and 40s.) It was owned for a time by Amos Dorsey, and it looks like he opened in it 1942. (Dorsey's operation of the club is mentioned in a 1950 Knickerbocker News article about him being hassled by the State Liquor Authority over an arrest 22 years prior in Saratoga Springs.)

rhythm club albany fire knick news 1952
via Fulton History

That clipping above is from a 1952 Knickerbocker News article about a fire in the grill portion of the club's building. It looks like the club survived the fire -- it shows up in other articles later in the 1950s.

Restaurant: Dorsey's Restaurant - Cor. Van Trumpet & Broadway
This listing is from the 1959 version of the Green Book, and we think it's a reference to a place that was also called Dorsey's Cafe, owned by Amos Dorsey who also for a time owned the Rhythm Club according to that 1950 Knick News article above about him being hassled by the NYSLA. A Times-Union article reported that "Albanians in many walks of life" rallied to support Dorsey's cause before the SLA. (It looks like Dorsey would go on to be active in the NAACP.)

The restaurant was at 636 Broadway -- the corner of Broadway and Van Tromp Street downtown. It looks like the building no longer exists.

Tourist homes
The 1939 version of the guide lists only "tourist homes" for Albany:
Mrs. Aaron J. Oliver - 42 Spring Street
Mrs. M. C. Williams - 18 Ten Broeck Pl.
Mrs. I. Dorsey - 25 Second St.
Mrs. Adams - 216 Hamilton St.
Mrs. G. Bedell - 23 Second St.
Mrs. C. Madison - 391 Orange St.

[via @jbenton]


There's a good children's book about this called "Ruth and the Green Book." It's a great way to introduce kids in grades 1 and up about civil rights history. Here's a link to the NYT review:

The Hotel Broadway at 603 Broadway would have been in the block now occupied by the DEC building, three or perhaps four doors north of Columbia Street. In 1950 it was listed as the Hotel Broadway (Kay Lee Silverman).

I would certainly hope that the Kenmore would have been on the list, having been built and operated by Adam Blake Jr., an African-American.

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