Black Travelers

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I chose to re-publish this post from last year where I shared one of my personal experiences, as an elder, who lived through Jim Crow.  Let us not forget the suffering and indignities Dr. King and other civil rights activists were subjected to in the fight for fair and equal treatment in this country.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and

narrow-mindedness.”Mark Twain

One of my happiest childhood memories were family summer vacations.    Every year, we traveled by car from Chicago to my parents’ hometown in Coahoma, Mississippi.    Members of our closely-knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins joined us for this thirteen-hour drive.    We were journeying home, traveling by night, in a caravan of three to four cars through the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi staying “visibly” connected to each car in the caravan along the way.    Why, because of the Jim Crow Laws in the 1950s.

  •  Reports of racial harassment and intimidation of black people while traveling were common.
  • Threats of physical harm, especially vulnerable, were cars with license plates from “up north.”

As a black traveler, you understood the restrictions and limitations under Jim CrowBlack travelers were:

  •  prohibited from using public facilities — water fountains and bathrooms.
  • barred from eating in restaurants or ordering food to go.
  • banned from staying in hotels and motels.

The children never questioned.  The adults never complainedWhy?  This was our reality.   We bypassed Jim Crow and survived.

  • We carried our supply of water, soda, paper plates/cups, napkins and plastic silverware.
  • We ate food prepared, with love, by my mother and the other women travelers.
  • We dined on homemade rolls, deep-fried pork chops and southern deep-fried chicken.
  • We consumed large bowls of macaroni and potato salad chilled on ice in coolers.
  • We lunched on ham, bologna and/or salami, placed between slices of white bread lavishly splattered with mustard and wrapped in tinfoil.   Along with the sandwich, potato chips, an apple, and cookies were packed in individual small brown paper bags.
  • We devoured slices of sweet potato pie, pound cake, coconut cake, and my favorite at the time, caramel cake.

As for using the bathroom, we carried a supply of toilet tissue, found an isolated area adjacent to the highway and the person would relieve themselves in the bushes.    However, there were times when the only option for privacy was to have someone stand in front of you.

Many of the inconveniences experienced by my family as black travelers might have been avoided had they known about The Negro Motorist Green Book:  An International Travel Guide.”   The Green Book was published by the Victor H. Green & Company annually from 1936 until 1964 when the Civil Rights Law was enacted.   An 80-page publication, it was considered as the black man’s guide to traveling.

The purpose of the Green Book is best described by the following statement from the publication:

  • “With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.  For many travelers, many places are not available, even though they may have the price, and any traveler to whom they are not available, is thereby faced with many and sometimes difficult problems.  The Negro traveler’s inconveniences are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling, individually and in groups.  There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published.  That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.  The Green Book with its list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems.”     

                       

In a 2010, New York Times article entitled, “The Open Road Wasn’t Quite Open to All,” Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture stated:

  • “The lack of knowledge about the Green Book also tells us about the lack of knowledge many Americans now have on how segregation really worked – how it had impacts dramatic and impacts small.  But all the impacts hurt.  The more people understand that through the Green Book, the more they’ll understand how things have changed. “

What a blessing it was to travel black, as a child, unaware of the Jim Crow limitations and restrictions.   Even though Jim Crow Laws are no longer in existence, my early experiences as a black traveler shaped how I view traveling by car today.   My phobia, as an adult, is the emotional and mental stress I may have to cope with as a black traveler on the highway.   

In His Own Words

My husband of fifty-two years never ceases to amaze me. Most recently, after a three-year project — on-again and off-again — he completed writing his memoirs and family history.

Married at the young ages of 17 and 18, I have watched him go through the many phases of life. The challenges sometimes seemed insurmountable, but he always kept pushing forward — failure was not an option.  At each stage, his goal was to move our family forward.  He had a strong commitment to ensuring our children were given opportunities that had not been available to us.   Together, we accomplished this.   There were some bumps in the road.  But, I can honestly say we have been fortunate.  In our fifty-two years together, we have shared more lemonade than lemons.  I ask my five Blog Followers, you  know who you are, to join me in congratulating first time author, James Cameron Thomas, on the January 12, 2013 release of his first book, “Son of a Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”

In His Own Words

I am a 70-year-old black male who was born in Mississippi in 1941 to an 18-year-old unwed mother with one child.  My parents were sharecroppers.   I did not know my biological father until I was 15 years old.  I grew up in dire poverty in the pre-Civil Rights south, chopping and picking cotton for ten hours a day, eight months of the year.  I was a high school dropout and had my first child, out-of-wedlock, at the tender age of 17.  One year later I married my beautiful 17-year-old childhood sweetheart and by the age of 26 I was the father of four children.  By age 33, I had obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I overcame many difficult beginnings to become the succesful person I am today.

This year my wife Yvonne and I celebrated our 52nd anniversary.  Thanks to a lot of hard work and God’s blessings, I now live in a suburb of Wisconsin and have a winter home in Orlando, Florida.  I live in a beautiful house , have a large collection of African-American art, photographs and mementos and I am not without resources and material comforts.   I am surrounded by treasured books by William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and numerous other authors who have written about the African-American experience in America.  I am truly blessed with a rich network of friends going back to elementary school including my best friend, my loving wife Yvonne.  I have four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all blessed with good health and sound minds, and pursuing careers.

My story and my family’s story is about being black in this country — an honest story about how much progress has been made, but also about how much progress still needs to be achieved.  I faced many hardships and struggles as a poor black boy growing up in 1950’s Mississippi.  But my struggles and hardships didn’t end when I moved to the north and began my professional career in business and government service.  While I was no longer chopping and picking cotton ten hours a day, I was still in many ways treated like a second class citizen.  This book, then, is a cautionary tale for black people about attitudes that have not changed fast enough and the progress that still has to be made.

At the same time, this is not a memoir by an angry black man.  Rather it is a story of hope and perseverance — about how I overcame tremendous odds to achieve success and the American Dream.  Despite the problems I describe, I’ve had many more victories, and I am thankful to my family, friends, colleagues, and country for the opportunities and achievements that have blessed my life.

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