Noir Book Shop owner Ymani Wince, partnered with Great Rivers Greenway to share the history of the Negro Motorist Green-Book and its connection to local Black-owned businesses.
The two-part event began with a presentation at the bookshop on Wednesday, October 4, with Wince examining the “Green-Book” significance to Black travelers and Black-owned businesses in the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood.
On Saturday, October 7, Elizabeth Simmons, community program manager of Great Rivers Greenway, hosted a one-mile tour along Market Street in the former neighborhood, highlighting former Black-owned businesses featured in the “Green-Book.”
Mill Creek was later demolished, and most of its 20,000 residents and businesses vacated.
After learning of the Brickline project, spanning from Tower Grove South to Fairground Park, Wince said she wondered how the many diverse neighborhoods between south city and north city would be impacted.
Out of sheer curiosity, she called Greenway and because of that first conversation, ‘Green-Book on the Greenway’ became an event.
“I started to think about all of the different locations in St. Louis that are a part of the Negro Motorist Green Book,” said Wince.
They include the DeLuxe Restaurant, Alice Beauty Parlor, and the Pullman Club, all located in the 2300 Block near the new soccer stadium site.
“Having the Great Rivers Greenway on board to tell the history of these locations in St. Louis is a way not to forget the community of Mill Creek Valley. This ties into the work of the Noir Book Shop,” Wince said.
Simmons said, “These places along the Greenway hold a story that shapes the past, present, and future of our region.”
“I hope this makes the stories of the people and places that once stood here more real.”
“The Green Book” was a tool that helped provide safety during legalized segregation. Lodging, automobile services, restaurants, and other establishments were listed in the book.
The Great Northern Migration was a catalyst for Black travel, and “The Negro motorist book definitely did something for our community,” said Wince.
She believes the automobile provided freedom for many Black families back then, especially when so many were leaving the Deep South and coming north.
According to Wince, by 1962 two million people were reading the “Green Book” across the country. The book was first published in 1937.
Wince also found listings of businesses in buildings that still stand. Some are on Martin Luther King Drive and Vandeventer. She found photos of these Black-owned businesses and archives at the St. Louis Public Library.
“The places along the Green Way hold such great rich stories that are a part of the St. Louis experience,” said Simmons.
“To be physically present where the business connects each individual to the community that once was in that same location.”
The Green-Book ended in 1966 and, “That was his dream, for us to not need the book anymore,” said Wince.
Ashley Winters is a Report for America reporter for the St. Louis American.