Negro specific pamphlets, magazines and registries were common in black communities around the United States during the late 1800s up until the 1950s. One publication, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was a travel guide series published from 1936 to 1964 by Victor H. Green. It provided Negro motorists and tourists information pointing out safe venues to stay, eat and sightsee during segregation.
Considered an important piece of African American history, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was hardly the only digest published with the intent of providing needed information to the Negro community during segregation. An example of another such book was the Colored People's Blue Book and Business Directory.
The 140-page book compiled D. A. Bethea, was a student at the Jenner Medical College that closed in 1917. The Blue Book listed Negro churches, secret societies, secular societies, political clubs, social clubs,
women's clubs and newspapers. In addition, the book also contained names of Negro newspapers, architects, artists, cartoonists, dentists, doctors, lawyers, public office-holders and a variety of other businesses.
Interestingly, only Negroes could advertise in the book, a stipulation enforced by white officials in Chicago. Perhaps, white vendors realized that Negro dollars spent just as well as theirs.
Being black in the United States has never been easy or convenient. Starting with the early “hush harbor” secret meeting of slaves allowing communication of outside news as well as information from surrounding plantations to latter day pamphlets and magazines, American Negroes found it necessary to develop multiple means of communication for any information affecting the black community. Although the early “hush harbors” disappeared the need for accurate, timely and protective information remained.
In 1927, Haldeman-Julius Quarterly published Wallace Thurman’s Negro Life in New York City’s Harlem. The book was subsequently placed in one of Haldeman-Julius’ popular Little Blue Books. Again, the book contained information valuable to Negros in New York City or moving there. At that time, there were approximately 200,000 blacks in Harlem. The book provides useful information regarding churches in Harlem as well as social and nightlife venues and organizations. One of the most interesting things in the book is a look at journalism in Harlem. It is especially interesting because the “Harlem Renaissance” was in full swing at that time with writers like Zora Neal Hurston, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Paul Dunbar and many more.
As a side note, E. Haldeman-Julius was a Jewish-American socialist writer and atheist thinker. He headed Haldeman-Julius Publications, which produced the Little Blue Books that sold hundreds of millions of copies.
Blacks caught reading the Defender might be punished. Nevertheless, the papers made it to the South by a variety of means including train porters throwing bundles of papers off the train where they were retrieved by locals and passed about. When World War I started, the newspaper’s publisher took that opportunity to advocate that southern blacks move to the north as immigration shut down and factories were in dire need of workers to support the war effort.
Starting with their importation to this country as a labor commodity blacks became perennial second-class citizens, a stigma that persists even today despite centuries of change. With the death of slavery, freedom allowed many blacks to flee the South and move North in what is commonly known as “The Great Migration” when tens of thousands blacks moved to the major metropolitan areas of the north such as Chicago, Detroit and New York.
Black’s Blue Book appeared in Chicago around 1917. It was a compilation of names, addresses and telephones of Chicago's Colored Business and Professional People. Like Bethea’s Blue Book, it also contained information on churches and artists. Numerous ads for hair products, tailors and funeral homes also filled its pages. One ad contained in the 1917 book read, “Do Your Banking With Your Own, R. W. HUNTER & CO., BANKERS, LARGEST COLORED BANKING INSTITUTION IN THE WORLD.”
In the late 1800’s publications like the Freedom's Journal, the first African-American owned and operated newspaper published in the United States and others such as The Dallas Express and the Indianapolis Freeman were among at least 20 other black owned and operated newspapers distributed national and internationally, some covertly. However, in 1905, Robert Sengstacke founded the Chicago Defender newspaper. Almost by itself, the newspaper sparked the largest migration in United States history as blacks from the Deep South came to Chicago in search of a better life. Printed in Chicago, the paper was widely read in the South despite newspaper distributors refusal to circulate it.
Chicago seemed to produce the most blue books and some aspired to include national coverage like Simms Blue Book and National Negro Business and Professional Directory. Segregation forced the publication of such pamphlets and books as blacks were often barred from shopping or eating at white establishments.
Other cities also produced “Blue Books” that acted directories for blacks providing names, location and telephone numbers of black businesses, churches, social clubs and a variety of service vital to the Negro community of that time
Many of these historical books are available on-line in PDF or text formats. Also, on-line bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com carry them. Be prepared to pay premium prices for some books, which can cost as much as $900. Books carrying similar information are available cities such as Philadelphia and Cleveland.