‘THE GREEN BOOK’
CBU hosts ‘The Green Book’ as part of African Heritage Month events
Reading of play at CBU marks African Heritage Month.
When a black couple in 1950s Nova Scotia sets out on a crosscontinent road trip to visit family via the famed Route 66, they encountered challenges that illustrate the racial divide of the not-so-distant past.
That’s the premise of “The Green Book,” a play based on the road guide of the same name — also called “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” or “The Travelers’ Green Book” — which playwright Juanita Peters brought to the Cape Breton University campus Wednesday for a dramatic reading and workshop.
Peters was invited to bring the play to CBU to mark African Heritage Month.
The book was published by a black postal worker named Victor Green from 1936 to 1964 and provided black tourists with the information they needed in order to do things that most white travellers probably took for granted — where could they go to safely buy food and supplies, find a motel room or even use the washroom, without being discriminated against because of the colour of their skin.
“He (Green) discovered that just because he had a nice new car didn’t mean that everyone had to sell you gas,” Peters said in an interview. “It was a safety tool and it actually grew from a document that was in the U.S. to Canada, in Mexico, it became a very popular and valuable tool.”
Peters said that there were many precautions that black travellers had to take, noting that the female lead Emma went as far as to pack a chamber pot in the car as they embarked on their road trip.
“You did a lot of things, you packed all kinds of tools in case you had to sleep in your car overnight,” she said. “We’ve taken a fictional African Nova Scotian couple who are travelling through the U.S. and we learn about the value of not only ‘The Green Book,’ but we talk about race-related trauma and how it has affected one of the main characters in the play.”
It’s hoped that audiences will understand the toll it takes on people when they encounter racism, both in the moment and in the longer term. In the play, Emma’s husband Carl suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his past experiences.
“This is taking place at a certain time in life, but the thing is, where they were in Nova Scotia, they didn’t see it to the extent that it was happening in the (U.S.), they weren’t aware of lynchings, they weren’t aware of some downtowns where you had to be out by a certain time or else you couldn’t be in that town at all, you didn’t want to be caught,” said Julia Williams, who plays Emma.
Williams noted there are also some present-day parallels with some of the current unrest in the U.S. under President Donald Trump and even with this week’s mosque shooting in Quebec City.
“It seems like people seem to feel that they have a pass nowadays to be racist and to openly express it and what we have to let people know is that you can’t be racist, we are all the same people, we all bleed the same red blood,” Williams said.
“I believe in the world that we live in today, it’s time that we all help one another, as we see what’s going on in the (U.S.) and all over the world, we need to come together,” added Jonathan Smith, who plays Carl.
The play was first previewed in Halifax in November. Because the play is in workshop mode, it’s still in development, with Peters taking into account feedback from audiences as she continues to rewrite and refine it. The plan is to take it back out in two years as a fully developed play.
The presentation at CBU was livestreamed to several other university campuses.
The cast of “The Green Book” — Lee-Anne Poole, from left, Gilbert Downey, Julia Williams and Jonathan Smith — perform at Cape Breton University’s Centre for Sound Communities on Wednesday.
Julia Williams and Jonathan Smith portray Emma and Carl in “The Green Book,” a couple from Weymouth, N.S., who set out on a cross-continent road trip to Los Angeles in the 1950s.
Playwright/director Juanita Peters was invited to bring her play “The Green Book” to Cape Breton University Wednesday to mark African Heritage Month. The play is based on a road guide published from 1936 to 1964 that helped black travellers safely find businesses and services.