Chicago's Honey Pot performers bring 'Negro Motorist Green Book' to life

Local performance artists use resource for black travelers during the Great Migration to create their latest work.

August 13, 2013

For its latest work, Honey Pot Performance will perform an interactive performance art piece called “The Guidebook Sessions” and inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book. The listing guide was sponsored in part by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation to help African Americans find accommodating businesses in the Jim Crow era.

The performance is also part of Honey Pot's larger work, “Price Point,” which explores “notions of fairness and balance, or the lack thereof, in today’s economic landscape.” It's part of Out of Site, a weekly public performance series on Friday nights in Chicago's Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods. Honey Pot performs August 16 from 5-7 p.m. at the Polish Triangle (Western and Milwaukee Avenue intersection). Out of Site runs through October 11.

Honey Pot Performance is comprised of Meida McNeal, Felicia Holman, Aisha Jean-Baptiste and Abra Johnson.

McNeal, artistic director of the collective, says Honey Pot performers use their own stories and experiences as well as essays and statistics to create and frame pieces.

The women take a holistic and ethnographic approach and movements within each piece develop from their backgrounds as well as the audience.

“We tap into whatever social, cultural, political thing that’s affecting us at the time,”  Holman said.

Currently, that is the struggle of minority, working poor, and unemployed Americans.

“It’s something that needs to be on the table and we need structures to allow people to talk about what they are going through,” McNeal said. “You’ve done everything you need to become a good citizen and it doesn’t matter and we don’t talk about it."

Thus, The Negro Motorist Green Book and “The Guidebook Sessions.”

Created by Victor Hugo Green, a postal employee and civic leader, 15,000 copies of The Negro Motorist Green Book were printed each year between 1936 and 1964. Businesses reviewed included hotels, gas stations, tourist homes (in which owners would rent rooms to travelers), beauty and barber shops, and restaurants that served African American customers. Originally restricted to the New York area, the guide book became national in 1937.

African Americans participated in American car culture, but were ultimately limited in where they could go. As stated in its introduction, the book gave the African American traveler "information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments, and to make his trips more enjoyable."

In addition to its public performances, the collective will also create its own version of The Negro Motorist Green Book for today's working poor and unemployed.  

The current economic climate has impacted millions of Americans. But blacks, Hispanics, the working poor and the permanently unemployed struggled before and will continue to struggle long after this moment.

Honey Pot's 20-page chapbook will include personal anecdotes about accommodating businesses and everyday economics. Information includes places to get taxes done for free and corner stores that allow payment with credit.

By creating their own version of the book and performance, Honey Pot aims to address systemic prejudice on a local level, offer a moment of catharsis for the community and open a dialogue often missing from discussions of the economic crisis.

Britt Julious writes about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt's essays for WBEZ's Tumblr or on Twitter @britticisms.