Paul R. Lehman, Traveling while African American–the early years.

July 4, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Dream, American history, Bigotry in America, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, desegregation, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, Ethnicity in America, European American, happiness, integregation, Prejudice, Race in America, segregation, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 3 Comments
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Today many Americans take their freedoms, liberties and privileges for granted because seldom are they challenged. One of the freedoms we all enjoy today is traveling all over the country seeing and experiencing the majesty of America the beautiful. A recent publication by the Smithsonian, and  writer Jacinda Townsend, entitled “Driving While Black”( April 2016) tells of the challenging experiences encountered by African Americans before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the efforts of one man to help relieve some of the dangers.

Townsend states that “Driving interstate distances to unfamiliar locales, black motorists ran into institutional racism in a number of pernicious forms, from hotels and restaurants that refused to accommodate them to hostile ‘sundown towns’ where posted signs warned people of color that they were banned after nightfall.”The fabric of ethnic bigotry increased after the Civil War because African Americans through their quest to become American citizens with all rights and privileges created a problem for European Americans could not see them as social equals. Therefore, in whatever manner African Americans could be deprived of liberties and freedoms, many European Americans invented and promoted these challenges.

As one might expect, African Americans traveling by automobile during segregation presented many problems. For example, some gas stations would not sell gasoline to African American customers and certainly would not allow them use of the restrooms. In some cases, the stations would sell the gasoline to African Americans, but at a higher price than the price at the pump. Because segregation was sanctioned by the government, no recourse was available to the African Americans; they were on their own. On long trips where they knew purchasing gasoline might be a problem, taking along an extra can of gas was a necessity.

Many African Americans taking long trips had the challenge of finding sleeping accommodations because the hotels or motels would not accept them. Simply traveling at night presented some problems. Townsend notes one experience of Paula Wynter, a young girl traveling with her parents in the 1950’s: “In North Carolina, her family hid in their Buick after a local sheriff passed them, made a U-turn and gave chase. Wynter’s father, Richard Irby, switched off his headlights and parked under a tree. ‘We sat until the sun came up.’ She says. ‘We saw his lights pass back and forth. My sister was crying; my mother was hysterical.’” The cover of darkness protected evil-doing bigots from getting caught from practicing their deeds against African Americans.

Two things African Americans knew to take with them when traveling by either car or bus and train—food and drink. Why? Because in most restaurants they would not be served—even one-room bus stops would not serve them. One practice that was common throughout the South and other areas of the country focused on African Americans traveling by bus. When the bus stopped for a meal break, the European Americans could go inside the establishment and order their food. The African Americans had to go around to a window in the back of the place building and place their order. However, they were forced to pay for their food at the time of placing the order. Because of ethnic bigotry in society, the European American had their orders completed first, so they had a chance to eat while seated in the establishment. Once the European Americans were served, then the orders of the African Americans were started. However, the bus drivers were only concerned that the European Americans were fed, so after their meal, thy returned to the bus ready to continue their trip. The bus driver would order all passengers on the bus at that time. The African Americans who had paid for their food were forced to leave without receiving any food and were refused their right to have their money refunded. So, they continued their trip hungry and with a money deficit for their troubles.

Things began to change for many of the African American travelers in 1937, according to the article, when an African American visionary entrepreneur, “Victor H. Green, a 44-year-old black postal carrier in Harlem, relied on his own experiences and on recommendations from black members of his postal union for the inaugural guide bearing his name, The Negro Motorist Green-Book.” At first, the 15-page book covered “the New York metropolitan area, listing establishments that welcomed blacks.” The book “created a safety net. If a person could travel by car—and those who could, did—they would feel more in control of their destiny.”For the first time, families could plan their road travel knowing that some of their problems would be addressed using the information in The Green Book.

Townsend notes that “The Green Book final edition, in 1966-67, filled 99 pages and embraced the entire nation and even some international cities. The guide pointed black travelers to places including hotels, restaurants, beauty parlors, nightclubs, golf courses and state parks.”More importantly for the traveler, Green’s book included businesses such as service stations, garages, and Road Houses. Although desegregation provided greater opportunities for African Americans to travel, the dangers and challenges of the road did not simply disappear.

Finally, the article notes that “The Green Book was indispensable to black-owned businesses. For historians, says Smithsonian curator Joanne Hyppolite, the listings offer a record of the ‘rise of the black  middle class, and in particular, of the entrepreneurship of black women.’”

Green’s book met a need for the African American traveler during the difficult period of segregation. Whether a direct influence or not, a publication that follows a similar philosophy but focuses on African American businesses is The Black Pages, for the metropolitan of St. Louis, Missouri. The expressed purpose of this publication is as stated:

St. Louis Black Pages Business Directory: For 25 years, the Black Pages Business Directory and The Transformational Agenda Magazine has served as an effective advertising vehicle for small-mid-sized businesses, non-profit organizations, and corporations across the St. Louis Metro area who have a vested interest in letting the African American community know that they’re in business and that they respect and appreciate their patronage. This highly effective advertising vehicle is penetrating a $4.86 billion market via 100,000 print copies, and engaging internet and mobile editions (for iPhone and Android).” www.blackpages.com/tag/st-loui

 

The Green Book sold its first edition for twenty-five cents; its final edition sold for $1. We note in the article that “At the height of its circulation, Green printed 20,000 books annually, which were sold at black churches, the Negro Urban League and Esso gas stations.”

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3 Comments »

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  1. Awesome! Thanks for the STL shout out!!

    Rev. Yolanda Denson-Byers, M.Div. 320-339-6618 Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. After reading about sundown towns and green books, I see that how we traveled on the road in the ’70s and ’80s was a legacy of the Jim Crow era–lots of food in the van and only stopping when necessary and at certain places (McDonald;s, Howard Johnson’s) and as much interstate driving as possible without relying on state and county roads.

  3. Thanks for the informative post. Had not heard about the bus station practice before. Had read about the Green book but had forgotten about it.


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