A Safe Place by Jonathan Calm

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I took these two photographs at one of the landmark sites of modern American history and African-American commemoration: the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, and which since has been preserved as part of the National Civil Rights Museum. It is impossible to fathom how often the Lorraine has been photographed, from the now-famous picture by Joseph Louw taken right after the assassination to the millions of shots snapped by visitors drawn to the motel over the past half century.

In June 2016, I went to the Lorraine Motel as the photographer for a BBC Radio documentary about the Green Book guides, which were published from 1936 to 1967 to inform Black travelers of establishments that offered safe and dignified accommodations on their journey through the Jim Crow South. Formerly a Whites-only establishment, the Lorraine became one of these havens after it was bought, and renamed, by Walter and Loree Bailey in 1945.

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The Green Book – A Visual Journey by Jonathan Calm

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The image of the open road and the idea of free travel across a boundless land of opportunity lies at the core of the American spirit. The struggle for civil rights has historically revolved around overcoming limitations of mobility based on racial prejudice. Major activist efforts like the 1962 Freedom Rides, or their little-known 1947 predecessor, the Journey of Reconciliation, carried the powerful symbolism of mixed-race groups of passengers who sat together on bus rides through the South to protest segregation. The Green Book guides, published between 1936 and 1967, were about different, far less chronicled right of African-American mobility: the right of upwardly mobile black citizens to travel with a sense of dignity as well as security with the knowledge of welcoming accommodations and services had been mapped out for them.

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