The Fort Worth Museum opens a family-friendly Green Book exhibit

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A new exhibit titled “Fort Worth and the Green Book” opened Friday at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, showcasing the Jim Crow-era guide book used by black Americans through a local lens.

The Green Book originated in the 1930s during the rise of the automobile by New York City postman Victor Hugo Green as a guide for black travelers to avoid road hazards and difficulties in the United States, Canada, and Mexico and to enhance the road trip experience . According to the Texas Historical Commission, the guidebooks were published through the late 1960s.

Green Book guides included hotels, gas stations, and restaurants, as well as tips on good and bad neighborhoods. At the start of publication, the guide only covered the northeastern part of the United States, Rehnberg said, but later included other areas and cities nationally, including Fort Worth.

The exhibit opens 67 years after the museum’s board of trustees released a memo about plans to end the separation of its exhibits and galleries — the museum’s classes and activities were still separate years after the decision due to Texas state law. The museum’s chief scholar, Morgan Rehnberg, said the Green Book’s display in the museum sheds light on the hardships faced by black Americans in the Jim Crow era and how those experiences were not so long ago.

“There are still people alive today who have experienced these difficulties,” said Rehnberg. “This is not a story of the ancient past, this is the story of our parents and our grandparents and the experiences they had while traveling.”

Rehnberg said the museum’s staff knew from the start of planning that they wanted to bring in an outside expert to curate the exhibit. Frederick W. Gooding Jr., chair of the Race and Reconciliation Initiative at Texas Christian University, accepted the call.

At the outset, Rehnberg said that the museum staff had an overview of history; Having Gooding on board helped fill in the gaps, with a focus on the lived experiences of black Americans during the period.

“It’s an opportunity to share our American history,” Gooding said. “It’s not just black history, to tell the story remember there were a lot of Americans involved, not just blacks. It wasn’t just black people driving around in a car with a green book because they wanted to, it was because they were interacting with a larger environment.”

Gooding said he sees the exhibit as an opportunity to bring a painful issue to members of the community, particularly youth, without diluting it.

Fort Worth and the Green Book features an immersive play with a video by Gooding explaining more about the Green Book. A photo booth with backgrounds of Fort Worth locations in the Guidebook gives visitors a chance to step back in time to the Green Book.

Because families make up the majority of visitors to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Rehnberg said the staff wanted to make the exhibit family-friendly to encourage conversations about the past related to a road trip, something kids can understand.

There is no intense imagery in the exhibition; Instead, the gallery guide includes a series of discussion questions for different age groups and an interactive map that encourages children to plan a road trip with enough food, gas and rest before their next stop.

Gooding said he learned about the Green Book informally through his family but never received a full historical basis for it until he went to grad school; it wasn’t a subject he was taught in the K-12 class.

“We’re trying to break that cycle because if you’re not exposed to that information sooner … you might start thinking differently as a result,” Gooding said. “What’s happening now in a lot of these race talks, we’re passing each other like ships in the night. As a historian, I contend that this is all because many of us are not dealing with the same facts and information.”

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Megan Cardona is a Service Journalism reporter at Star-Telegram, covering politics, government programs, community resources and more to help residents navigate life in Tarrant County and North Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2020, where she spent two years working at campus newspaper The Shorthorn.

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