The hundred years following the abolition of slavery in the United States proved to be an extremely dangerous stage for African Americans, especially the more well-off families. African Americans were finally building their lives here in America after having their rights stripped and their strengths exploited for hundred for years but were still facing repercussions of Plessy vs. Fergusson’s legalization of separate but equal. This law left very few options for African Americans within the United States to eat at restaurants, stay in hotels, fuel their cars at service stations, etc. Many white business owners were happy to provide (less than satisfactory) service to African Americans because they profited off of them, but many of these establishments, especially in the south, were death traps. The horrifying truth of the lynching that occurred for no other reason than the believed supremacy that many white people held is what made a simple road trip a matter of life and death for African Americans.

Image from The Negro Motorist

The Negro Motorist was created in 1936, written by and for African Americans that wished to travel by car to any given location within the United States, and provided information about businesses and hotels that African Americans could visit free of danger and without refusal. The Green Book aimed to “give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.” This was an invaluable resource to African Americans because it gave them freedom to travel and visit establishments within their own country that before may have not been possible or known to them.

Image from Mapping Inequality showing HOLC’s data for a section of Brooklyn, NY.

Mapping Inequality is an online resource that has compiled information from the Home Owners Loan Corporation, giving us online access to the national collection of “security maps” and area descriptions produced between 1935 and 1940. This New Deal agency was responsible for appraising property values and evaluating the risk level of neighborhoods. The maps made by HOLC in almost 250 cities were a major player in the continuation of class and racial segregation. Sections of cities were rated A, B, C, or D, from least to most dangerous, and those that were placed in categories C and D were predominately low income and black populated areas.

Image from Mapping Inequality showing HOLC’s data for a section of Brooklyn, NY

Spatial history, as defined by Richard White’s, is a compilation of constructed spaces and their associations through human movement relative to chronology. Basically, the display of an event through time. The added layer of a time period helps add context, but with mapping, several other layers can be added to create a deeper sense of understanding of the data being displayed. I chose the city of Brooklyn, New York, to use for this mapping project. This map contains 22 locations within the city of Brooklyn that were deemed as safe by other African Americans. The business on this map include restaurants, taverns, wine and liquor stores, night clubs, beauty parlors, and schools of beauty and culture.

Transcript of the points plotted on map for written reference

All of the businesses included in Brooklyn’s green book are located in the same general area, many of them with an address located on Fulton Street specifically.

The area where the majority of the businesses were located in Brooklyn via the Negro Motorist was classified by the Home Owners Loan Corporation as “Hazardous,” the most dangerous classification that the service used to identify areas.

Area of Fulton Street where many African American owned businesses existed between the years 1935-1940

The argument made by many historians today that the work of New Deal Housing Corporations like HOLC are some of the main reasons that segregation of classes continued on for many years and still really exists today, is made evident in these maps. I viewed a map from my home town and the surrounding cities that I know the areas pretty well in, and the same areas deemed hazardous by HOLC are still run down, below the poverty line, and known as the “bad part of town.”

In the words of historian Thomas Sugrue, “geography is destiny.”

This statement would not have impacted me in any way before completing this assignment, but through the evaluation of these maps that display spatial history in its’ prime, I feel that we are able to raise questions about the morality of the New Deal housing corporations, how segregation of classes and races still exists today, and how are these classifications and representations on the map still affecting the realities of people in America almost 100 years later?

Thank you for reading!