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.


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 (NBER Working Paper No. 26819)

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 in public accommodations during this time period.  We digitize the \textit{Negro Motorist Green Books}, important historical travel guides aimed at helping African Americans navigate segregation in the pre-Civil Rights Act United States. We create a novel panel dataset that contains precise geocoded locations of over 4,000 unique businesses that provided non-discriminatory service to African American patrons between 1938 and 1966. Our 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 Northeast, while the lowest number were found in the West.  The Midwest had the highest number of Green Book establishments per black resident and the South had the lowest.  Second, we combine our Green Book estimates with newly digitized county-level estimates of hotels to generate the share of non-discriminatory formal accommodations.  Again, the Northeast had the highest share of non-discriminatory accommodations, with the South following closely behind.  Third, for Green Book establishments located in cities for which the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) drew residential security maps, the vast majority (nearly 70 percent) are located in the lowest-grade, redlined neighborhoods.  Finally, Green Book presence tends to correlate positively with measures of material well-being and economic activity.

Competition and Discrimination in Public Accommodations: Evidence from the Green Books (please email for draft) 

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 ratio of non-discriminatory to discriminatory firms and the ratio of non-discriminatory to discriminatory consumers. We then consider the case of discrimination against black consumers during the Jim Crow era. Combining exogenous variation in the racial composition of local markets induced by white casualties during WWII with a novel dataset of discriminatory and non-discriminatory firms, we find that white casualties are associated with large increases in both the number of non-discriminatory public accommodations as well as the ratio of non-discriminatory to discriminatory public accommodations throughout the United States.  While our analysis is most consistent with the market conditions hypothesis, we show that activism among blacks likely played a role in the expansion of access to public accommodations.