The Green Books Project

Project Description (joint with Lisa Cook, Trevon Logan, and David Rosé)

Recent unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the subsequent evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement has thrust the pervasiveness of racial inequality into the public’s eye.  We study discrimination in public accommodations during Jim Crow to better understand the issues underlying discrimination today.  We construct a new measure of discrimination based on establishment counts listed in the “Negro Motorist Green Books”.  The Green Books were annual travel guides that listed restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and bars that were friendly to African Americans during the 1938-1964 time period.  We combine these non-discriminatory establishment counts with secondary data sources to address a variety of questions relating to discrimination in public accommodations prior to the Civil Rights Act.  This project is ongoing.

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Figure: The number of non-discriminatory (Green Book) establishments per 1000 black residents in 1950.  Establishment counts are collected from the 1950 Negro Motorist Green Book and the number of black residents comes from ICPSR’s Historical, Demographic, Economic, and Social Data.

The Green Books and the Geography of Segregation in Public Accommodations

Jim Crow segregated African Americans and whites by law and practice.  The causes and implications of the associated de jure and de facto residential segregation have received substantial attention from scholars, but there has been little empirical research on racial discrimination within public accommodations during this time period.   We digitize an important historical tool created to assist African Americans in navigating both types of segregation: The Negro Motorist Green Books.  We generate a novel dataset consisting of the geocoded location of over 4,000 unique businesses that served African American patrons between 1938-1964.  Our preliminary analysis reveals several new facts about discrimination in public accommodations that contribute to the broader literature on racial segregation.  First, the largest number of Green Book establishments were found in the North, while the South had the highest number of Green Book establishments per capita.  The West had both the lowest number of establishments, as well as the lowest number per capita. Second, World War II was associated with large increases in the number of non-discriminatory public accommodations throughout the entire country, a result that is driven by counties with high WWII enlistment rates.  Third, out of the Green Book establishments located in cities for which the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) drew residential security maps, the vast majority (over 60%) are located in the lowest-grade, redlined neighborhoods.

Competition and Discrimination in Public Accommodations: Evidence from the Green Books

Models of taste-based discrimination suggest that competition will drive down the market share of discriminatory firms even in the absence of government intervention. We present a stylized model that captures the nature of the relationship between the share of firms that serve members of the minority group to that group’s share of the population. Then to test the model implications, we consider the case of discrimination against black consumers in the U.S. during the Jim Crow era. To do this, we collect a novel dataset of firms that were friendly towards blacks from The Negro Motorist Green Books, an important historical tool created to assist African Americans motorists in navigating friendly establishments before the Civil Rights Act. We combine this dataset consisting of the geocoded locations of over 4,000 unique businesses that served African American patrons between 1938-1955 with newly digitized establishment counts from various editions of the U.S. Census of Business (1935-1948), and exogenous variation in the relative shares of whites and blacks across U.S. counties.  Variation in local population comes from mobilization and mortality in World War II which exogenously affected the size and racial composition of local markets. We find that WWII was associated with large increases in the number of non-discriminatory public accommodations throughout the entire country, a result that is driven by counties with levels of white mortality WWII.