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In honor of the late Victor H. Green, the publisher of the Negro Motorist Green Book, Dominique Magazine reviewed the history and many commentaries written by the staff of the guide including Green himself. The publication served as a tool that provided state by state listings where black motorists could stop for the night. It allowed travelers to have safe places to stop for food, gas and resting. The Negro Motorist Green Book enabled black drivers a mapping tool for a cross-country drive through towns with places to stay while avoiding “sundown towns” where no Blacks were allowed at night.
The book was published from 1937 to 1966 highlighted both black-owned businesses and white establishments that were willing to serve black customers. Green stated he looked forward to the day that printing his book would no longer be needed. He died in 1960 and the book published up until 1966. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. The heir of his empire, his wife, continued the operations until that time. She died in 1978. The Greens had no children.
“There will be a day sometime shortly when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States,” Green wrote in the 1949 edition. “It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication, for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes, we shall continue to publish this information each year.”
Over the years, we have many black business associations, black chambers of commerce, black networking groups, black business directories, and apps sprouted all over the marketplace to assist black consumers with black-owned firms. The premise of these entities was to encourage companies to market and promote themselves. As with the Green Book, many of these platforms struggle to capture firms who want to use the venues.
Assistant Editor Novera C. Dashiell documented Green’s lament in 1957 on how many black firms refused to advertise.
“He regrets the shortsightedness of most of our businessmen to see the urgent need and value of advertising. If a negro owned business is good, it can be better with advertising,” she wrote. “We can create our own name brands. We should have the patience to build. Build for yourselves and the future of our children.”
Green considered his publication a live example of patience. The outlet started out for Greater New York then expanded nationwide. He also, according to Dashiell, lamented the lack of interest among young people in the field of advertising.
“The need for trained personnel is acute. He urged more youngsters to take advantage of the opportunities offered,” she wrote. “This, in turn, will create greater achievements in our business ventures.”
In 2009, a panel of black media experts was featured in Black Enterprise Magazine discussing the issues impacting black media. The problems were Black Americans spend money on things not marketed towards them which can hinder media outlets from generating revenue. It also noted a push by many Fortune 500 companies for large market penetration has made it even more difficult for these outlets. The smaller audiences often are perceived as not a high return on investment.
In 2012, the Small Business Administration reported 2,584,403 black businesses were in operation comprising 9.5 percent of the total number of American companies. Blacks accounted for 12.6 of the population at that time. A black firm that year was reported to average $58,000 yearly in sales. However, Hispanic companies said $143,000 annually in sales, and white companies reported $546,000 in sales. Asians owned 7.1 percent of the operating businesses in 2012, Hispanics held 12.2 percent, and Whites owned 70.9 percent.
For a 1957 commentary, Dashiell’s words and Green’s thoughts apply 60 years later. Many of these black directories struggle to get black companies to advertise, and the lists, for the most part, could use a significant marketing push. Green’s mindset of allowing black people to shop and patronize whatever business they wanted to was an appropriate dream for the time. While some argue that black business leaders are promoting voluntary segregation with the ‘supporting black business’ movement, but I argue otherwise.
Case in point, the data shows that our firms make the least amount of money and granted, many blacks do open business in some of the lowest grossing industries as outlined by the SBA report, it can also be concluded that many of us still rely on ‘word of mouth’ and dated marketing practices. Granted, many firms often don’t have the budget or resources to make such investments whereas others just do not see the value. A goal of a business should extend beyond making a profit but creating a legacy to pass to your children or family. This is how generational wealth is built and distributed.
The Negro Green Book was able to thrive in an era where black motorists needed to be safe in their travels and also promoted businesses and services along the way. The same logic must be applied when addressing local firms and black-owned ones. Some argue they don’t want to be labeled as a black business but want black dollars. Think about how many major corporations study the black demographic and cater their marketing to capture those dollars. While we should have the home court advantage, we must recognize we have many obstacles that we’re competing with such as larger budgets, social media, digital marketing, multiple platforms, brand awareness and more. The climb is not an easy one but one that a company must be willing to take.
It’s time for more business owners to take marketing and advertising seriously and know who their customer is. Other races should not be able to study our marketplace better than us, and in fact, we should study theirs to capture dollars from their communities. Black businesses must recognize that chess is the name of the game and if we want our companies to be major brands, we must start thinking like a major brand. Dominique Magazine has that mindset, and we look at ourselves in being in the same realm of Madam Noire, a publication created for black women (which was founded by a black man named Jamarlin Martin) and other outlets. We don’t want to play it small, and no business that considers themselves a legacy should have this mindset. The tools are here, and it’s time for us to get to work.
So, develop that market strategy. Hire that consultant! Do that research and have a critical analysis of where you want your business to go. While Green and Dashiell cited this problem in 1957, we’re mentioning this issue in 2017, and we hope that by 2077, the business owners of the time would have captured this and excelled. It’s also our hope that Tenth Amendment Media Group, the parent company of Dominique Magazine thrives and prospers when the owner is no longer living so it can take care of his unborn children and future family.
Article by Dominique Magazine