FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21) — This is what many Americans grew up watching on television in the 1960’s: police, fire hoses, police dogs unleashed on unarmed, peaceful civil rights protesters. Men, women and children. But brutality was just part of African American life in the South then. Tens of thousands of businesses refused to serve black people or forced them to use restrooms, hotels and restaurants separate from whites.
“Hatred is the umbrella of racism,” says Fort Wayne minister Em Mett Carol who grew up in Mississippi and remembers what life was like then for African Americans. “They like walking on eggshells…’don’t let nobody catch you doing this’, ‘don’t say this’, say ‘yes sir’ say ‘yes ma’am’.”
African American travelers didn’t know if they’d find a restaurant to eat in or motel to sleep in. Then in 1936 a black New York City postman named Victor Hugo Green published the Green Book, a travel guide for African Americans that listed hotels and restaurants and other services in most major cities that welcomed black families.
“Imagine how unsafe how lost how fearful for your children you would feel traveling without this kind of a resource in those days<‘ says local historian Connie Haas Zuber. “It would have been awful.”
U.S. 27 is a major highway from Miami, Florida to Michigan, it runs right through Fort Wayne. From 1936 to 1966 the Green Book listed five Fort Wayne businesses friendly to black travelers. This was where one of them once stood, Stewart’s Restaurant at 621 East Brackenridge. This lot at 1301 Goshen Road was the site of the sprawling West Acres Motel that put up black travelers for the night. It’s long gone. In fact all the Green Book listings for Fort Wayne have been demolished except this one, the African American Museum at 436 East Douglas. In the 1940’s and ’50’s this was the Mrs. Ben Talbot Tourist Home, a black friendly motel run by an African American widow. The Green Book ceased publication in 1966 when the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960’s ended public segregation and though racism is by no means dead in America., it has been wounded.
‘Would your parents say today that it’s better in the South then when they were growing up?’ we ask Minister Carol. “Yes,” she replies, “because somebody stood up to make that change to change things somebody spoke. Not just spoke but took action.”