By Julie Larry
Did you know that Portland was included in this well-known guide book for African Americans travelling in the mid-twentieth century?
The guide book was originated and published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against non-whites was widespread. Although pervasive racial discrimination and poverty limited car ownership, the emerging African-American middle class bought automobiles as soon as they could afford to do so, but when travelling faced a variety of dangers and inconveniences along the road, from refusal of food and lodging to arbitrary arrest. In response, Green wrote his guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans, eventually expanding its coverage from the New York area to much of the United States. He also founding a travel agency.
At Union Station on St. John Street, the railroad was hub of employment for black Portlanders who worked as Red Caps, food vendors, and matrons. Many families lived on A & Valley Streets near their jobs at Union Station.
Benjamin and Edie Thomas were one of these families. Benjamin was born in South Carolina and moved to Portland where in 1920 he lived at 368 Park Avenue and worked as a Red Cap at Union Station. The couple later lived at 28 A Street across from Union Station and operated ‘The Green Lantern’ a 16-room rooming house. Called the Thomas House Tourist Home, the bay window had a green lantern underneath lit, rain or shine, earning it its nickname. Edie and other members of the family operated the rooming house and kitchen. Edie had a contract with the government in WWII to feed African American soldiers. The café was known as the Green Lantern Grill and was on the first floor. Edie was the daughter of Mary Ann Cummings, who lived with the couple and helped out in the tourist house. The couple were listed in the Green Book as a safe place for a meal and rest. The couple later moved to 12 A Street.