This week my fifth grade students began a unit on historical fiction books. One of the main things we discussed is the fact that historical fiction books are different than realistic fiction because we could not take the events that occur in the book and set them in the present time. And, some of the events in the book really did occur while others are a story and are made up. We had a good discussion about this and read a Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey.
Set in the early 1950s, Ruth and her family take their new car on a trip to Alabama from Chicago. As they venture South, Ruth is made aware of segregation and Jim Crow. Her family is turned away from hotels, gas stations and restaurants. Finally, after staying with a friend of her father's, they find out about the Negro Motorist Green Book. Started by Victor Green, an African American salesman, these books list the places that black people can shop, have their hair done, stay overnight, and a variety of other services. As one traveler explained to Ruth's family, a green book was essential to him.
I think the students liked this book, and it opened their eyes to what life was like not all that long ago (although the 1950s probably seem like the Stone Ages to them!) We noted that it was 1964, 99 years after the end of the Civil War, when the Civil Rights Act was passed. And, in the age of the internet, we were able to find a copy of the Negro Motorist Green Book online and look through it. It was especially interesting to find our town listed, with just a mere three tourist homes for African Americans to stay in.
Ruth and the Green Book is definitely a worthwhile read, and shouldn't just be brought out for Black History month. I'm already planning on reading and discussing this one at home, too.