Green Book Movie Has A Montana Connection

Jan 14, 2019

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in Green Book
Credit DreamWorks Pictures/Universal

The movie Green Book won three Golden Globe film awards in early January for best comedy or musical, best supporting actor in a motion picture and best screenplay. And it could win an Oscar or two in February.

It is the story of a working class bouncer who becomes the driver for an African American pianist on a tour of the South during the racial segregation of the early 1960s.

The movie’s title derives its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide in the 1930s through the 60s with a Montana connection.

The book was a must have for African Americans traveling across the racially segregated US of the mid-

The_Negro_Motorist_Green_Book Wikipedia article on The Negro Motorist Green-Book, 1936-1966
Credit jalexartis Photography

20th century, a time commonly referred to as Jim Crow. It listed businesses that would accept African American customers.

Kate Hampton, community preservation coordinator, Montana Historical Society’s State Historical Preservation Office, called it an essential resource.

“Travelers and people visiting the state required that kind of information to make sure that people of all ethnicities were welcomed in certain places statewide.” Hampton said.

She researched the Montana business’ that were listed in the publication.

The first one was Mrs. Stitt’s Tourist Home in Helena in 1939

“They were an early African American family living in Helena that welcomed people of all ethnicities to stay within their facility,” said Hampton.

Her research found that Mrs. Mabel Stitt died in 1939, though her name appeared in subsequent publications. Her husband Aaron and daughter Carrie Burnett may have continued running the boarding house.

It took more than a decade for other locations to advertise in the Green Book, including in Billings, Butte, Livingston, Missoula and East Glacier. Some of these hotels are still in business.

One of them is the Motel Central in Great Falls.

“It’s a fabulous place,” Hampton said. “Looks exactly the same as it did way in the 1950s and 60s when it advertised in the Green Book, Still functions as a motor inn. You can still stay there. The knotty pine paneling is still up in the rooms. It’s fabulous.”

Others still in operation include the Murray Hotel in Livingston, Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and Hotel Florence in Missoula (now listed as offices and storefronts).

Hampton thinks it’s wonderful that the history of African American tourism and travel is being highlighted in popular culture

“We’re remembering that these kinds of publications were absolutely necessary, not only for the enjoyment of travelers but for their safety,” added Hampton.

BlackPast.org, a reference guide to African American history, identified the book by the early 1960’s as the most popular of several tourist guides created specifically for an African American audience.

The Green Book ceased publication in 1964.