Cityscape

‘Green Book’ is up for Oscars. See some KC places once listed in guide for blacks

A look at some Kansas City sites listed in the Green Book guide

The University of Kansas Spencer library has copies of the Green Book, a real guidebook that helped black travelers navigate segregated America.
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The University of Kansas Spencer library has copies of the Green Book, a real guidebook that helped black travelers navigate segregated America.

In the Oscar-nominated “Green Book,” bouncer “Tony Lip” Vallelonga gets a temporary gig as a driver for a prominent black classical pianist.

But the two-month tour in 1962, which is based on a true story, is through the Jim Crow-era South.

Just before they set off, Tony flips through a little pamphlet called the Green Book. When his wife asks him about it, he guesses it is a guide for “traveling while black.”

The Green Book guides were published from 1936 to 1966, listing businesses, hotels and “tourist homes” deemed safe for African-Americans.

Some Kansas City-area operations made the 1955 and 1960 books, which are part of the African American Experience Collections at the University of Kansas Kenneth Spencer Research Library in Lawrence.

“Carry your Green Book with you — you may need it,” the book warned travelers in a tagline on the cover.

Many of the area sites have been replaced by new development or are now just empty lots.

But a few buildings remain.

The Thomas Wilson home, at 2600 Euclid Ave., was a private residence that also rented rooms to travelers as a “tourist home.” The shirtwaist-style house still stands on the corner, surrounded by a short decorative stone wall.

The current owners said they have long had it as an investment property but they are in final negotiations to sell it.

Mrs. Vallie Lamb offered a safe haven in her stately two-store home on a large lot at 1914 E. 24th St.

Birdella Jackson has lived there for about 25 years and said the single-family home with about a dozen rooms was recently remodeled.

“I think it’s wonderful, what kind of house it is, historical,” she said.

Her daughter, Patricia Jackson, said it was a respite for performers who would play at the nearby 18th and Vine area.

“It’s not a house, it’s a home,” she said.

The Green Duck Lounge building is a few blocks east of Euclid at 2548 Prospect Ave.

Green Duck Lounge was once owned by longtime civil rights leader Leon Jordan and served as a hub of political activity. Civic leaders, community activists and politicians frequented the legendary tavern to solicit the support of Jordan, who was one of the founders of the influential black political club, Freedom Inc.

Jordan was gunned down on the evening of July 15, 1970, after locking up the club. His murder remained unsolved for 40 years until Kansas City police reopened the investigation. Detectives concluded that the shooters had already died.

The building was extensively damaged in a 1980 fire. Businessman James “Jimmy” Townsend had rescued it from foreclosure around 1990, according to Kansas City Star archives, and spent years restoring it. In 2011 he was found shot to death in his home.

The Jackson County prosecutor’s office shut down the Green Duck as a public nuisance later in 2011 after repeated incidents of violent crime and drug activity. It reopened in 2012 before closing again.

It received a designation to the Kansas City Register of Historic Places in 2015 for its association with Leon Jordan and Freedom Inc.

The Parkview hotel at 10th and Paseo is now an apartment building.

“Green Book” is nominated for five Oscars in the 91st Academy Awards, airing 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC. In addition to best picture, stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are up for best actor and best-supporting actor, respectively.

The Star’s Glenn E. Rice and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Joyce Smith has covered restaurant and retail news for The Star since 1989 under the brand Cityscape. She appreciates news tips.


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