It was called the Green Book. It helped people in the Black community find safe places to eat and stay overnight when they had to travel during the Jim Crow Era. Now, 55 years later, an online space is vastly emerging into what one researcher is calling its modern-day version.
“It’s an open secret,” said Shamika Klassen, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Here in the space known as Black Twitter, its users share tips, history, places, common experiences and everything in between. Black Twitter is not a separate social media platform, but part of Twitter, where users participate through hashtags like #BlackOwnedBusinesses, #BlackTech and even #CovidWhileBlack.
“Sometimes a good search is not enough, an artifact or archive search is not enough, so I have to jump on Black Twitter,” said historian Erica Buddington.
When she’s not searching Black Twitter for work-related resources, she’s tweeting long threads about Black History.
Klassen says Black Twitter has played a critical role in recent years during the pandemic and racial unrest. Hashtags like #WhileBlack and #BlackLivesMatter have helped expose more encounters of racism and provide a virtual connection to the community that didn’t exist before the social media age.
To prove just how resourceful Black Twitter has become, Klassen partnered with researchers from Harvard and Carnegie Mellon University to conduct a deeper study.
“We saw topics ranging from politics to entertainment to health to education,” said Klassen.
Together, they collected more than 75,000 tweets over two months and interviewed Black Twitter users. The results showed shockingly similar links back to the Green Book: one of the largest guides for people of color from the 1930s through the 1960s.
“We were able to look at actual editions of the Green Book from the New York Public Library digital archive and compare that to tweets we collected,” Klassen said.
The Green Book and Black Twitter also share commonalities around social justice and activism.
“The way that people galvanize around these different movements and hashtags goes offline when people coordinate to have protests when people coordinate to vote,” said Klassen.
“We’ve never stopped helping one another get to places of safety. We’ve never stopped recommending Black-owned spaces for us to purchase, buy, fall in love with, etc,” said Buddington.
Black Twitter is proof of the value that the community puts into feeling safe while sharing common experiences.