When Frederick Douglass Visited The Family That Enslaved Him

Douglass on Porch
The Day Frederick Came Back. Original water color by Don Armstrong.

Richard Tilghman is descended from one of Frederick Douglass’ slave masters. He’s the 12th generation to live on the Talbot County, MD, property—where the abolitionist leader spent ages 6 to 9 of his boyhood. Tilghman, who resides at Wye House with his wife Beverly, has read old newspaper accounts of how Douglass, as an older, freed man of international renown, happened to visit Tilghman’s great grandfather.

“Douglass came back in 1881, and the principal purpose of the trip was to meet with a slave breaker named Cody in St. Michaels, MD. And then he took it upon himself to come here and visit Wye House [a short distance away in Easton].

“He was greeted by various members of the family and shown up to the main house by my great grandfather, who was only 22 years old at the time. Newspaper accounts said they sat there and drank tea, but I never saw my great grandfather drink a cup of tea in my life. I’m pretty sure they drank mint juleps, whiling away half the afternoon on the porch, chatting.”

“Word got out.

Richard Tilghman
Tilghman. Photo: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

“My great grandfather felt it was important enough that he greet this man, treat him like an equal. We definitely feel the connection to Frederick Douglass. Let’s face it, he was the most important African American of the 19th Century.

“I can’t rewrite history,” says Tilghman. “I’m not proud that my family owned slaves. I can’t change that. What can you do about it, you do. What we’ve been trying to do is to be part of an effort to understand what life was like for the [enslaved] people.”

In that vein Tilghman’s mother allowed the University of Maryland to study the grounds where Douglass and other African Americans lived to gain greater insight into their day-to-day lives. (More in a future blog.)

“I have to say racism is alive and well, and our friends in Washington aren’t making it any better,” Tilghman concluded. “To solve problems, we have to be willing to stand up and talk about what happened, why it happened, without being ashamed or defensive.”

Why Harriette Loves Frederick

Eric and Harriette Lowery HR
Eric & Harriette Lowery. Original water color by Don Armstrong.

I spoke with Harriette Lowery in early January about the Frederick Douglass Honor Society‘s efforts to celebrate FD’s 200th birthday. She, her husband Eric, (pictured) and the wider Talbot County, MD, community were busy preparing for a prayer breakfast on February 10. A number of Douglass’ extended family were set to attend, including Rev. Clarence Wayman, whose great great great uncle was Douglass’ best friend, and Professor Dale Glenwood Green, a nephew of Wayman and also a descendant of Harriet Tubman.

Pamela K. Johnson: Tell me about the Frederick Douglass Honor Society.
Harriette Lowery: We came together basically just to put up a statue honoring Frederick Douglass. We learned that he was a native of the Talbot County, MD, and thought he should be honored in some way. We were so successful in getting the statue up, and bringing a diverse community together to support it, that it was hard to go home and close the door.

PKJ: So what happened next?
HL: We started doing other events. It became a mission to dedicate ourselves to putting together programs that continued to honor Douglass’ legacy, a legacy for human rights, education, personal growth and involvement… It was important for us to make sure people understood that he was not just an African American hero, but an American hero. His values are far reaching and cover everybody. The things he wrote and talked about, even today, resonate so strongly in how we raise our children, how we promote education for all citizens…

PKJ: The statue went up in 2011, what continues to spur the FD Honor Society on?
HL: The man himself, and what he represents in terms of his strength, his ability to rise above so much adversity in his life: enslavement, escape, trying to survive… Also he was always able to debunk the myths about African Americans not being able to be educated, to be self-made… After much of his success, he came back to dedicate churches, give speeches, and visit with the family that enslaved him. One plantation, where he was enslaved as a child, their descendants are still there. I know them; they’ve worked with us on a lot of events and have supported us financially.

Anatomy of a Rejection

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.46.27 PMWhen I unsuccessfully pitched my Year of Frederick Douglass idea to several
publications, I thought someone would surely take it. One of my queries:

It’s the Year of Frederick Douglass!
The abolitionist, orator, and former slave got a pre-200th birthday shout out last February when President Trump kicked off Black History Month by suggesting that Douglass might still be out there doing big things. 

Though he’s been gone since 1895, his accomplishments in the areas of civil rights, women’s suffrage, and self-definition continue to resonate, and more than 40 organizations from Rochester, NY, to Edinburgh, Scotland, have planned a full year’s worth of bicentennial events. 

I’ve spoken to the heads of a number of these organizations, and also interviewed two of Douglass descendants. The latter are giving away a million copies of Douglass first autobiography. I’ve spoken with the descendant of a family that still lives on the land where Douglass was enslaved, and later returned to spend an afternoon with his former enslaver.  Lastly I’ve spoken with a Harvard professor/Douglass’ scholar who’s coffee-table book, Picturing Frederick Douglass, is being reissued with eight never-before-seen photos in February. (Here’s a story I wrote about the book for NBCBLK.)

I can turn around “Descending from Douglass,” a 1500- to 2000-word feature in two or three days. It will highlight the year’s events, while exploring why a man who was friends with President Lincoln and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, still resonates with people on both sides of the Atlantic today.

But nope…

(1) Popular Women’s Magazine
Hi Pamela!
Interested and would love to hear more. Are you available for a quick chat on Friday morning?

Subsequent emails got no response.

(2) Atlantic
Hi Pamela,
Thank you so much for your pitch. At this time, it doesn’t seem like quite the right fit, but we appreciate the chance to consider it and wish you well in placing your story elsewhere.

(3) NY Times
Hi Pamela,
Thanks for following up. I don’t think this is quite right for the magazine at the moment. I’m going to pass.

The good news is, though, that a friend may join me on the blog with his illustrations. So I won’t be confined to 1,500 or 2000 words, and can really let this story open up and unfold.


The Gift of Trump

Frederick Douglass on display in the U.S. Capitol complex. James Lawler Duggan/MCT

Last February, FD got a pre-200th birthday shout out from President Trump, who kicked off Black History Month by suggesting that the great abolitionist and orator might still be out there doing big things.

Nettie Washington-Douglass suggests her great-great-grandfather,  born 200 years ago this month, worked his posthumous magic through the 45th President when he stated: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.”

On Juneteenth 2013, when the statue (above) was placed in the U.S. Capitol complex to represent Washington, D.C., Washington-Douglass received a small replica of the 7-foot-plus original.

After the Trump dust-up, she turned to a tiny statuette of her ancestor— who died in 1895—to ask, “Did you have something to do with that? And he said, ‘Mmm hmph,’ ” Washington Douglass said with a wink.

The Commander-in-Chief’s lack of knowledge about her ancestor came as a surprise.

“How can he be the President of the United States,” she wondered, “and not know the man is dead?”

On the other hand, she said, it was the best thing that could have happened for their Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI) organization. “People Googled us, went to our website, we got more donations, and Kenny got more invites [to speak].”

Kenny is her son, Kenneth B. Morris. The two of them, along with family friend and associate Robert Benz, run FDFI, which has given away upwards of 55,000 free copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, with a goal of sharing a million copies with youths 12-18 years old during this bicentennial year.

The biggest positive is that more people got to know Frederick Douglass.

“He was an expert at marketing himself,” FD’s great grand daughter said. “He took over the image he wanted to portray, and got it out there. If he were alive today, he’d have a million Twitter followers.”

But since he’s not still with us, she suggests with a laugh, that he used the unlikely personage of Trump to help spread the word about his 200 birthday celebrations, occurring around the world throughout 2018.

The awareness and momentum led to the formation of a Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission., and her son, Kenneth, is on it.

So, um, yes: Frederick Douglass is still out there doing big things.

What Would Frederick Do?

ADVENTURES WITH FRED                                   A blog commemorating                  the bicentennial of                Frederick Douglass’ birth.

A year ago, I learned that the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass, lived only 15 or 20 miles down the road from me in California. I became aware of Kenneth B. Morris Jr. when I wrote a story for NBC news about the coffee-table book, Picturing Frederick Douglass, which said the legendary leader was also the most photographed man of the 19th Century.

I started my article thus:

“Born into slavery in 1818, it’s likely that Frederick Douglass wore rags as a child. But he borrowed the clothing of a seaman and stole away to freedom in 1838. As an abolitionist, author, and adviser to U.S. presidents, he donned luxurious ascots, vests and overcoats. Historians know this because 160 distinct portraits of him exist — compared to only 126 of President Lincoln.”

Kenneth B. Morris, FD descendant, and survivor of my cooking.

It was paging through the book—a new edition of which will soon be published with eight new FD photographs—that I became aware of Douglass’ descendant Kenneth.

After nearly a year of back and forth emails, I finally got Ken to come to my house for lunch last March, and we talked for a couple of hours about one of his famous grandfathers. (The other was Tuskegee University founder Booker T. Washington.)  I recorded our conversation, and then let the voice memo sit, untranscribed, for the better part of a year.

Then around October, I finally got it typed up. More than 30 pages worth. I traveled much of October and November, worked on a project in December, and when I came up for air in January, I realized it was the Year of Frederick Douglass already, and groups around the country had already begun celebrating the 200th year of Douglass’ birth.

In a great rush, I called up Douglass’ descendants, heads of organizations hosting FD events throughout 2018, and even chatted with a man whose family once enslaved Douglass in Maryland. I pitched stories to several outlets, but no one bit.
Then I thought, What Would Frederick Do? He’d publish the stories himself. In fact, he was a newspaper publisher.
So, since we still have a free press—so far—I’ll be posting stories about Douglass that inspire me in the coming days, weeks, and months. If you have information about a cool Douglass event, or a Douglass story that inspires you, email me at pamelawhowrites@gmail.com.
As A.J. Aiseirithe, one of the people keeping a Frederick Douglass Bicentennial calendar, told me: “We could start right now and tell stories about him…through the end of 2018, and we would not have said everything that needs to be said.”
                                                                                                                        ~ Pamela K. Johnson
Find out more here.

1940: Oscar So Black

Hattie Mcdaniels With Academy Award
Best Supporting Oscar used to be a plaque.

The real Oscar buzz began for Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in Gone With the Wind, after she nailed a scene where she tearfully relays to family friend Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) that Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is suicidal over the death of his baby girl.

While black folks and black newspapers alike didn’t “give a damn” about Gone With the Wind (GWTW)—the film adaptation of a racist novel that glorified slavery—they were excited that McDaniel could potentially make history with a Best Supporting Academy Award win.

The actress couldn’t rely on buzz, however. Nor would she could depend on Hollywood to do the right thing. Instead, she walked into producer David O. Selznick’s office in Culver City, Calif., with a stack of articles that and gently leaned on him to submit her name for Oscar contention.

Hattie in mirror
McDaniel close up.

Black journalists urged readers to write Selznick and demand that McDaniel be put in the running, and a letter from McDaniel’s sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, predicted that discrimination and prejudice could be wiped away if she were to win. Selznick agreed with her supporters that her performance was Oscar worthy, and put her name forward. (Awkwardly enough, one of the actresses she was up against was co-star de Havilland).

McDaniel’s journey to that moment was a slow, arduous climb. Though she’d come from a talented family of entertainers in Denver, only her two older brothers had consistent success in show business. The eldest had died in his 30’s, while Sam McDaniel, a few years older than Hattie, landed bit parts and played Deacon McDaniel on CBS’ radio show, the Optimistic Do-Nut Hour. Mostly he earned his living as a bandleader.

Baby sister Hattie struggled, often taking domestic work, as her mothers and sisters before her. Though she performed often, and even toured with a 1929 Show Boat production, the Depression gutted her entertainment career, and she came west from Milwaukee where she was squeaking by in 1931. In Los Angeles, she was a recurring cast member on Sam’s radio show and gigged with the Sarah Butler’s Old Time Southern Singers. She also took on domestic work to make ends meet, just as older sister, Etta, did. All three siblings got roles in moving pictures here and there.

Hattie and clark
Friends McDaniel and Gable in Gone With the Wind.

With the success of 1934’s Imitation of Life, featuring a white woman and a black woman as friends (actresses Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers), bigger, brown-skinned women such as Beavers—and McDaniel—were suddenly in vogue. And when McDaniel got word that Selznick was casting GWTW, she read the 1935 Pulitzer Prize winning novel several times, determined to claim the part of Mammy for herself.

Landing a contract would mean guaranteed pay for several months, but it required patience as Selznick milked the free publicity by dragging out the audition process. He even sent talent scouts to acting troupes around the country. Several stars, including McDaniel, screen tested for their parts more than once.

Once she’d won the role, shot her part, and been nominated for the Oscar, McDaniel became the first African-American to attend the ceremony, then-12 years old. In the background, actor Clarence Muse, columnist and actor Harry Levette, and journalist Earl Morris were the among the first African-American Academy voters to cast ballots that year, according to one of Hattie’s biographers, Jill Watts.

2006 U.S. Postal Service

Still, some black folks were not appeased by what they perceived to be window dressing on a shack of a story that demeaned blacks and made slavery seem tepid compared to the real thing. Walter Francis White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  nudged Selznick for several years to consult with him (or a black scholar) to expand and enhance GWTW’s black story line. Selznick corresponded with White, and yet held him at bay. But the producer could not stop protesters from picketing his feature outside theaters around the country, or at the Oscar ceremony itself at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel.

That pivotal night, Fay Bainter, the previous year’s Best Supporting winner took the stage and proclaimed how happy she was to present this “particular” honor which “enables us…to reward those who have given their best regardless of creed, race or color…” With that, she teed up the announcement that McDaniel had scored the momentous victory and an historic first.

McDaniel bounded up the steps to accept her award—back then a small

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 11.22.28 AM
McDaniel got her second wind with radio’s Beulah.

plaque with a petite Oscar figurine welded to it—and forgot(?) the speech Selznick International had prepared for her. Instead she spoke from her heart.—and very possibly from a speech that she and journalist and friend, Ruby Berkley Goodwin Ruby Berkley Goodwin, had written together. (GWTW went on to take 10 Academy Awards, including best picture.)

Flowers and congratulatory telegrams poured in from around the country, with papers, big and small, championing the victory. But within a year or two, McDaniel was again desperate for work. Her career floundered until 1947, when she landed the role of Beulah on the radio.






Re-Birth of a Nation

nate parker 1
Nate Parker with Nat Turner drawing.

A hundred years after The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, actor Nate Parker is at work on a film using the same name.

The original, made during the silent picture era, was directed by D. W. Griffith, and adapted  from Thomas Dixon’s novel and play, The Clansman.  The story centers around two white  families—one Northern, the other Southern—who fought on opposite sides during the Civil War, but ultimately unite in their efforts to trap the newly freed Negro at the bottom of society with the aid of the Ku Klux Klan.

The original featured white actors in blackface.

Parker’s film, as you might imagine, will vastly depart from that narrative. It’s set to explore the life of Nat Turner, visionary preacher turned badass, who led a bloody slave rebellion in which  60 whites were killed before Turner was captured and hanged.

nate parker2
Scene from upcoming Birth of a Nation.

Parker wrote the project and will direct it, inspired to retell Turner’s story because “when black history came around, I saw the pictures of the [slave] ships and all the people, and it brought intense shame and embarrassment.” Those feelings stemmed from his lack of knowledge about blacks’ attempts to stop the “dirty system” of slavery.

Parker’s take on Birth of a Nation “isn’t a story about a black guy that killed white people,” he has said, it’s “about an American hero that fought for ideals that America was supposed to be built on: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one nation under God.”

NAACP protests circa 1915.

Recently I watched Griffith’s film (the whole three-hour-plus epic can be seen here) as research for my novel about a little remembered battle between America’s first black Oscar winner, and the man who headed up the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 25 years. Efforts to protest Birth played a significant role in expanding the then-budding the NAACP, which was founded in 1909.

Here are my notes on the original:

President Wilson showed the film at the White House.

–Many of the key black roles are played by whites in blackface, with make up that gets dodgy at the neckline.

–The “tragic mulatto” trope is rolled out, including a biracial man who becomes drunk with power, and a “mixed” woman who spits, tears at her clothing, and has a drifting gaze that makes her look deranged.

–Love is lavished upon a newly created Confederate flag, and racist quotes from Woodrow Wilson (above), then-President of the United states, appear on title cards throughout. (Wilson and Griffith were roomies at Johns Hopkins University.)

(The 28th Commander-in-Chief allowed Birth of a Nation to be shown at the White House, and also authorized cabinet members to reverse racial integration in the federal civil service. Under his administration, federal restrooms and cafeterias became re-segregated, and partitions were installed to separate black federal workers from white ones. As you may have heard of late, some are calling for Wilson’s name to be removed from public places.)

White virtue, the KKK were championed.

–The original movie asserted that freed blacks should not be treated equally or given the vote because they were irresponsible and dangerous.

–Blacks elected to Congress during the brief Reconstruction Era are portrayed as whiskey-drinking, fried-chicken eating uncouths. When black men aren’t carousing, they’re trying to seduce white women. One brute is so obsessed that he chases a white damsel to her death, which the KKK quickly avenges.

—At the end of the film, blacks try to vote on election day and the KKK, hooded and towering above on horseback, block their path.

nate parker3
Parker showing that many resisted enslavement.

While Griffith’s Birth of a Nation gave America a blueprint for how to disenfranchise, marginalize and terrorize black people, Parker’s said his intention was to show a younger generation of black kids that their roots are not at the bottom of a slave ship. “We stand on soil that has reminiscences of our ancestors. We’re not alone.”




People in Hell Want Ice Water

Hello HellfighterThe thing about putting a piece of writing down for a period of time–whether a few days, months or years–is that I do some living and growing that brings me to a different entry point of the story.

When last my Black history script and I huddled in June, the protagonist was a woman, and the story focused on her and her nemesis’ careers. This time around, the scenes that got me ignited were the main male character’s relationships: Whom he loved privately because she appealed to him, and whom he loved publicly because of how he knew others would judge him.

My character’s love story starts near the end of World War I, circa 1918, where Black folks are catching hell:blog jo baker

A year earlier, America had implored Black men to fight for democracy abroad, while still being lynched regularly at home. Yet they signed up, hoping to earn respect and expanded rights that didn’t materialize. Some men were even lynched in  uniform.

Black folks, such as Josephine Baker and Marcus Garvey, advocated walking away, Baker looking to France, and Garvey to Africa.

blog-Langston In Central AsiaThe likes of Langston Hughes (left, center of group) and Paul Robeson took an interest in the politics of Russia–then our ally–where the tender shoots of Communism had broken ground. Rather than hoarding money and land among the rich at the top, the system advocated resources be shared amongst the working class. garvey.africa

Black soldiers didn’t get much respect in the US, but our French allies, with whom the 369th regiment out of Harlem fought shoulder to shoulder, held them in high regard. The unit received that nation’s prestigious Croix de Guerre. While the Germans, against whom the US fought (Italy and Austria-Hungary being the other foes), called the 369th “the Harlem Hellfighters,” due to their toughness and reputation for never losing a man through captureblog ww1 jazz, trench, or foot of ground, according to author Peter Nelson in A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters’ Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home.

As they say, people in hell want ice water. And on Feb. 17, 1919, the 369th got a taste. They marched up Fifth Avenue from just below midtown Manhattan, well into Harlem, as hundreds of thousands–possibly even millions–turned out to cheer their bravery, and toss chocolate candy, cigarettes and coins from open windows as they passed. Black soldiers in Chicago, Savannah, GA, and other US cities enjoyed a similar heroes’ welcome.


WATTS: Through the Eyes of a Native Son

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/138345829″>Watts Opener Clip 9.4.15</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user4469955″>Pamela K. Johnson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

At a recent Afro FuturismIMG_1738 event, one of the speakers appeared not to have gotten the memo: Lindsay Holmes (left) ruminated about the past, relaying his experience of growing up in Watts, CA, one of (his father’s) 24 kids, and his memories of the smoke rising from the flames that engulfed his community when he was 14 years old. Holmes said he planned to lead a curated tour of Watts for the 50 anniversary of the riots, stopping at select childhood haunts.looting-in-Watts_1965

Half of me listened impatiently, thinking:  When is this guy going to bring it around to Afro Futurism? The other half started taking notes, quickly realizing that the speaker had a good story. I got his number before he left.

A few days later, I called Lindsay, and said, “Let’s go to Watts with a video camera and hit some of the spots on your upcoming tour.” And so we did, Lindsay, cameraman Christian Gilder (at bottom), and me.

Lindsay is a compelling subject and a natural on camera, and for the last several weeks, I’ve been editing a micro doc I’m calling “10 Minutes in Watts.”

Doing this short piece makes me wIMG_1754ant to delve deeper because many people only know about those six days in ’65, when fed-up black folks went ballistic after white police stopped a black driver—actually outside of Watts—lighting a long-simmering fuse. I found it compelling to hear about the community back in the day from Lindsay, an insider.

We went to the house he grew up in, his elementary, middle and high schools, and the famous Watts Towers. He recalls it being a community  IMG_1715where he knew no black entrepreneurs. Everyone worked for someone else, he said, and after the riots, the jobs they did have all went away because the businesses had burned to the ground. His family had to catch a bus to a community a half hour away to buy school clothes that September.

Lindsay grew up to become a McDonald’s franchisee, and his teenage sons, now in college, also run their own (music-related) business.

Watts has a much bigger story to share than many have heard. I hope to be a part of the telling.



Back It Up (Traveling While Black Part II)

Hospital-interior-300x292Under Jim Crow law:

–White motorists had the right of way at all intersections.

–So-called passenger comfort was ensured by creating “equal but separate” train cars for blacks and whites.

–If a black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the back seat.

And woe be unto you if you traveled while black and got into a bad automobile accident. That’s what happened to entertainer Ethel Waters in Alabama circa 1918, where separate but equal almost cost her a leg.

In 1930, when NAACP leader Walter White’s father—who looked white—was struck by a car, his condition seemed to be stabilized at Atlanta’s clean Caucasian hospital. But when a relative of a darker hue arrived to visit, the criticallyDerricotteresize2 injured George White was summarily sent to the Colored wing. Severely underfunded, it was dirty and rodent infested; White died days later.

In ’31, Juliette Derricotte (right), dean of women at Fisk University, got into an accident in Chattanooga, TN. She and the driver received some emergency care from white doctors, but were refused admittance to the local white hospital, and succumbed by the following morning, causing an uproar around the injustice.

And those are just the bold-face names.

For Waters and many black performers during the Jim Crow era, which lasted from 1877 to the mid-1960s, touring was key to earning a living. Traveling was also a priority for many families whose members were at a distance from one another. (Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns, is a must-read on black migration.)

Victor Hugo Green, a mailman in Hackensack, NJ, stepped into the void with the intention of keeping blacks safer on the road. Around 1913, he came up with the concept for the Negro Motorist Green Book and the Negro Traveler’s Green Book.

“[He] and his wife, the former Alma Duke of Richmond, VA, and their family often made the nearly 700-mile round trip to her hometown during their long marriage,” Calvin Ramsey wrote in a National Writers Union newsletter. Green’s books were issued for 30 years, from the mid-30’s to the mid-60’s.

An 80-page-plusGreen Book guide, it listed Negro hotels, restaurants, and homes where travelers could stay. Services such as beauty and barbershops, doctors and dentists’ offices, as well as restrooms and gas stations could be sourced.

“[His] dream was that one day the Green Book would not be needed because African-Americans would enjoy full accommodations on the open road,” Ramsey asserted. Though Green died in 1960, his daughter kept the publication going several more years, through the passage of the Civil Rights Bills of the mid-sixties.

Those bills, along with federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid, ultimately forced  the last few Jim Crow hospital facilities to integrate. And though he couldn’t save his father, Walter White used his sway as an NAACP exec to get his childhood friend Louis Wright, MD, on the staff of the formerly all-white Harlem Hospital.

Green ultimately moved to Harlem, and his legacy has become a major inspiration to Ramsey, whose children’s novel, Ruth and the Green Book, tells of an 8-year-old going with her mom and dad from Chicago to Selma, ALcalvin-ramsey-1, to see her grandmother in the 1950’s. Along the way, they encounter a host of obstacles—until they get their hands on a Green book.

Ramsey (right) also wrote a play called The Green Book. Staged in Washington, DC, it starred the legendary civil rights activist Julian Bond, who shared with Ramsey that his family always traveled with the book. Attending the performance that night was Ernie Green of the Little Rock (Ark) Nine, who integrated an all white school in 1957. His family also relied on the guide. Musician Wynton Marsalis’ grandfather, who ran an Esso gas station in New Orleans, both advertised in and sold Green’s book.

When he attended the funeral of two dear friends’ son who died in a traffic accident in Atlanta about 15 years ago, Ramsey first learned about Green. It turned out that the grandfather of the child who died had traveled from New York City and happened to ask Ramsey where he might track down a Green Book.

“It was his first time traveling to the South,” says Ramsey, “and he thought it was still needed.”

Photos: Ashville Colored Hospital 1945; (AppalachianHistory.net), Juliette Derricotte (Equal Justice Initiative); The Green Book; Calvin Ramsey.