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Shreveport in the Green Book

Ad for a service station
The Esso Service Center in Shreveport purchased a half-page advertisement in the The Negro Motorist's Green Book of 1954.

Shreveport was prominently featured in Green Books.

The New York Public Library has digitized a large number of the Negro Motorist's Green Book, a travel guide used by African Americans during segregation (also called the Jim Crow Era). These guides are an excellent way to understand that all Americans love to road trip, and they are also an interesting study in the landscape of race.

Shreveport (Caddo Parish, Louisiana) had a number of listings in the 1940 Green Book. All of them were "tourist homes," meaning a private residence provided a room or bed for overnight accommodations. Except for one, the tourist homes were managed by the wives to supplement their husband's incomes, and possibly included a meal with the fee.

Being the nosy person that I am, I wanted to find out if the homes that doubled as hotels still stand. But the names of the streets listed in the 1940's Green Book did not match the names listed in Shreveport's city directory from 1940. Mrs. W. Elder, for example, ran a tourist home at 1920 Hotchkiss. But, there is no Hotchkiss Street in Shreveport.

Around 1932, Shreveport renamed many of its streets. Hotchkiss and Reynolds streets were renamed to Milam Street. Since Milam Street makes a bend at Pete Harris Drive, I think that's where Reynolds (to the east) and Hotchkiss (to the west) once met.

Remember that the Green Book I was researching was published in 1940? So, why did the Greenbook still list the addresses for the tourist homes as Reynolds Street and Hotchkiss Street when the roads had been renamed to Milam Street about eight years prior? There could be several reasons. The simple explanation would be that the listings may have not been updated. An obvious reason could be that the old road names were more familiar to the proprietors when they submitted their listing.

Historians often have to read "between the lines" to make educated guesses in an attempt to understand past people within their own frames of references. Sometimes the reads are spot-on, sometimes the assumptions are off-base. This is where history becomes subjective. A "between the lines" reason for the Green Book to continue listing the addresses at Hotchkiss and Reynolds instead of Milam could be, for example, that city maps were not easy to come by for African American travelers. They'd instead have to stop and ask for directions. Locals would direct them by the old, familiar street names instead. The proprietors knew this, and therefore submitted the old names.

There could be that a duality existed in the geography of the city. Officials used "Milam Street" but residents still referred to "Reynolds" and "Hotchkiss." While Milam Street was printed on maps and in city directories in a nice, orderly and documented fashion, Reynolds Street and Hotchkiss Street were imprinted in the minds of locals, like an oral history of Shreveport's geography.

And yes, Mrs. Elder's house still exists (as per the 1940 city directory address). The house doesn't serve tourists anymore, but it goes to show that history is all around us if we dig a bit.

The Esso Service Station is no longer in business, but the orignal footprint remains in downtown Shreveport at the corner of Anne and Pierre streets.
Mrs. Elder's tourist home was listed at 1920 Hotchkiss in The Negro Motorist's Green Book of 1940, but the city directory for Shreveport did not list this address. Instead, Hotchkiss had become Milam Street after 1934.
Mrs. Elder's tourist home that served African American travelers in 1940 still exists!

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