Green Book Movie and 1940 Book Discussion Questions for Book Groups
Kindle eBook B07MR9SPZB 1940 Edition
The movie, The Green Book, took place in 1962. Have you seen it? It is similar to but so different from Driving Miss Daisy, as a white man chauffeurs a gifted black pianist to concerts in the south. As it was Jim Crow times and they cross the Mason-Dixon line, their many encounters and experiences change the white driver’s thinking about the difficulty of being black (even if well to do) at that time. Sometimes the characters could not stay in the same hotel or eat in the same restaurant. This movie shows a change of heart as it teaches about those times. Did you know the movie is from the real-life experiences of African American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and Italian American bouncer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga. I didn’t realize one the screenwriter was one of Tony’s children. The script was based on letters written at the time, and also interviews. Of course, artistic license was taken in a few cases, and there is a little controversy about a few points.
During the same year the movie represents, my family drove from Minnesota to Arkansas to attend a grandmother’s funeral. Closer to the south, my sisters and I were hungry, and there were few places to eat along the way. We spotted a restaurant, and my father got out of the car. He didn’t park up close to the door, which I still remember as being somewhat odd. He walked over, turned around, got back in the car and drove away. “Why,” we asked, almost in tears. He told us they only served white people and we were not eating there.
My whole family was white. Maybe we needed a Green Book for our trip. I’m sure my father used the AAA Travel service, but they probably didn’t think to advise him the same what they advised black people at the time. The books sounds nice until it becomes apparent they are very short.
That was the summer I learned about Jim Crow as it was in the south up close and personal, which left a lasting influence on my life. Of course, Jim Crow was everywhere in different forms. At the time, I did not know The Negro Motorist Green-Book. I’m glad to learn of it later in my life so people could avoid awkward or humiliating experiences. It was written each year with the hope it would become unnecessary. Victor H. Green (1892 – 1960) was a postal carrier living in Harlem when he created the first of his annual Green Books in 1936. The last edition was in 1967, two years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law.
Did you know you can download copies to read for yourself, as well as purchase a 1940 Facsimile Edition on Amazon? Fifty-three whole pages for traveling the entire nation. Hmmm. I did buy that one on Amazon as well as review several free downloads. Here is what I found.
The Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center has one year of the book published in the National Museum of African American History and Culture as a free download. Links to other placed it may be viewed and downloaded are also listed on the page.
The University of South Carolina also has a free download for the 1956 Green Book at this link. Both sites have viewers, and I’m aware of other sites that offer viewing or downloads as well.
The book as a primary source document is in many lessons for secondary schools. It is not a book to sit and read, though, it is a book to ponder and realize what was going on in plain sight that many people didn’t understand.
The Negro Motorist Green-Book
Discussion Questions to Consider
2. What are the fewest services for a state listed? Discuss the ramifications of traveling through such a state. Is every state included in the lists? What are your thoughts on why or why not?
3. Is every state included in the lists? What are your thoughts on why or why not?
4. What is the most popular category in the book: restaurants, gas stations, recreation parks, taverns, liquor stores, garages (service stations), barber shops, hotels, nightclubs, road houses, country clubs, taxis, drugstores, and beauty shops? Why is that the most popular category?
5. What kind of advertising does the Green Book have?
6. There is information on how to send a story about using the Green Book for possible publication and five dollars. Describe the story requirements.
7. What do you notice about the text travel guide pages? What kinds of things are described that might not be in other travel guides?
8. How do you think this would compare to other travel guides?
9. What cities have the most services? And even includes things like dance halls, tailors, millinery, and maybe a haberdasher?
10. Why is a key to Manhattan street numbers included?
11. Why do you think there are no maps?
12. Ferry and Tunnel rates for passenger cards are listed. Why would this information be needed ahead of time?
13. Points of interest in New York City are listed. What is the possible implication of including this list?
14. How do the different editions for the different years compare?
15. What did you learn or realize from looking through this book?
The Green Book Movie Discussion Questions
1. What is the year of the movie setting?
2. How do the two main characters differ?
3. Although Don Shirley did not personally know Tony Vallelonga, he hired him anyway. Why?
4. What did you think of Shirley asking Tony’s wife for permission to take him on tour?
5. Do you feel the events in the story are true to life, and why?
6. Who is holding the Green Book copy of the paperback in the film? Why?
7. Do you think perhaps other groups had similar travel guides then and perhaps now? Do you know of any such guides?
8. Did you previously know about sundown towns?
9. How do they deal with different rules when they both cannot eat or sleep in the same location?
10. Do you think Jim Crow was worse in the south than elsewhere? Do you think Jim Crow was actually everywhere and still is in many ways, or do you think society has improved?
11. The Green Book is based on interviews as well as letters written during the tour. Did you realize the movie was based on real-life before or after viewing? How does knowing it is a true story affect your feelings about the film?
12. There is some controversy surrounding the film. Many films based on true life have to be adjusted for the story to be conveyed through sight and sound. Did you feel it represented the actual truth? Do you think it deserved the many awards it won?
13. Why do you think Don Shirley wanted it released after his death?
14. How does Tony help Don in some specific situations? Do you think the tour would have been successful without Tony? Do you think without calling Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy the story would have turned out the same way?
15. Tony gets home for Christmas but not because he can finish the drive through the snow. How does the film end?
16. Don Shirley’s degrees in real life were honorary. Do you think in another era they would have been earned?
17. The film is said to show a white savior. Do you feel that is true or do you believe the two men became friends? The family says they had a professional relationship only, but there are videos revealing friendship. Either way, is it important to the film?
18. Would you recommend the film to others? Why or why not?
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