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Grantee Spotlight: Candacy Taylor

When I was commissioned to write a travel guide about Route 66, I realized that huge pieces of the story were missing. How did black people fit into the story of this road? I started to look into it, but I didn’t learn much until I came across a copy of the Negro Motorist Green Book in a museum. I had never seen the Green Book before — I hadn’t even known that it existed. But here it was, an important, overlooked piece of history, and I knew that writing about it was my next project.

The Green Book was more than just a travel guide. It was an essential tool to keep black Americans safe while they traveled. The book listed businesses that would serve blacks across the U.S., on Route 66 and many other roads. It had hotels, restaurants, and gas stations, but it also had haberdashers, funeral homes, and anything else blacks might need while they traveled. These Green Book sites were and are important examples of black entrepreneurship that allowed black communities to help other black people on the road.

My NEH funding is allowing me to drive across the country and visit the locations mentioned in the Green Book. In the month and a half that I have been on the road so far, I have driven more than 8,000 miles and visited about 2,500 Green Book sites. At some of the sites, the businesses listed in the guide have been abandoned for years, but others are still open and operating. I just visited Dooky Chase, a legendary restaurant in New Orleans, and spoke to the restaurant’s 94-year-old owner about its history, as well as its role as a meeting place for leaders of the civil rights movement. Next week I’m heading to Texas to search through the archives of ExxonMobil to learn why its predecessor Esso distributed the Green Book. I still have two months of travel and thousands of sites to visit before I can sit down and write my book.

It was hard for me to find funding for this project because it isn’t a traditional scholarly work. Now, because of the Public Scholar grant, it is being taken seriously. By helping stories like this one reach a broad audience, NEH is helping make room for work that is both smart and popular.

Candacy Taylor received a $50,400 Public Scholar grant to write a book about race in America focused on the Negro Motorist Green Book. You can sign up here to receive updates on the project as it progresses.