Candacy Taylor’s ‘Overground Railroad’ takes historical look at African American travel

The Harlem-based author, who grew up in Columbus, explored the history of the “Green Book,” a guide for black travelers during segregation. She will visit Gramercy Books at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, Charlie’s Place was a popular, African American-owned nightclub in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Little Richard were just some of the legendary performers who graced its stage.

But the good times were interrupted one night in 1950, when members of the Ku Klux Klan injured several people by shooting 400 rounds of ammunition into the club; they also kidnapped the owner, Charlie Fitzgerald, and cut off parts of his earlobes.

″(Charlie) had a lot of power in that community as a black man. He was an ongoing threat. … They did not want black people demanding that they should be treated equally,” said author, photographer and Columbus native Candacy Taylor, who relates Fitzgerald’s story in her new book, “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America.”

Now based in Harlem, New York, Taylor will return to her hometown to discuss her work during an appearance at Gramercy Books in Bexley at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The focus of her work is the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” aka the “Green Book,” created in 1936 by New York postal worker Victor Hugo Green. The annual travel guide for African Americans during the Jim Crow era of legalized segregation included restaurants, hotels, stores, banks and other businesses — many black-owned, including Charlie’s Place — throughout the U.S., where they could be served and protected from violence.

The guide was published through 1967 — three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination and racial segregation in public facilities.

“It was almost like a ‘Yellow Pages’ for black businesses,” Taylor said. “It was tailored for our race at a very specific time in our history.”

More people have discovered the historic travel guide in recent years; it provided inspiration for the 2018 Oscar-winning film “Green Book.” Taylor’s research, which she began in 2013, also is helping to document the extent of its impact.

With fellowships and grants from institutions such as the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Taylor has been able to catalog nearly 10,000 locations culled from “Green Books.”

She spent seven months driving across the country, scouting and photographing more than 4,000 sites. Though abandoned, some of the buildings still stand. Eighty percent are gone, she said, and only 3 percent still operate.

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