Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance by Mia Bay
I have been reading this book for a very long time! It's one of those books where I would read it in short burst throughout the year and it was always on my bedside table. I actually finished it in February of 2023, which also happened to be Black History Month in the US. The theme for this year's BHM theme was 'Black Resistance: A Journey to Equality'. How funny was the timing of me picking this relevant read for this relevant theme?! This indeed is a perfect book to read for this year's theme of Black History Month theme.
I remember being initially drawn to the book when I saw the title of it, 'Traveling Black'. I thought, oh wow, what a cool title! Also, I don't know a whole lot about travel during the civil rights movement, other than a chunk of history about 'The Green Book', also known as 'The Negro Motorist Green Book'. I liked the idea that this book delved much more into traveling from the black experience during this time period. I had to know what it was all about. Also, as a fellow and avid traveler at Chrissy on the Move, the subject of travel always fascinates me. I was especially keen to learn about traveling via aviation and trains in the US.
About 'Traveling Black'
Mia Bay, a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania, writes a book that highlights what travel was like for the black race during the Jim Crow era and navigate a plethora of discriminatory travel accommodations. From segregated train stations, to airport terminals and whites only service stations and accommodations. Mia Bay went back to the sources with some basic questions, such as: How did travel segregation begin? Why were so many of those who challenged it in court women? How did it move from one form of transport to another, and what was it like to be caught up in this web of contradictory rules?
From stagecoaches and trains to buses, cars, and planes, Traveling Black explores when, how, and why racial restrictions took shape and brilliantly portrays what it was like to live with them. Bay unearths troves of supporting evidence, rescuing forgotten stories of undaunted passengers who made it back home despite being insulted, stranded, re-routed, or ignored.
Bay sources a great amount of supporting evidence and unearths forgotten stories of passengers who made it back home despite being insulted, stranded and ignored. A digestible and insightful masterpiece, this book helps explain why the long, unfinished journey to racial equality so often takes place on the road.
I loved the simplicity of the structure of this book. Bay splits each mode of transportation into seven simply laid out chapters in this book. As a person who loves structure, I found this very easy to understand and to get into. She frames the book from the beginning of the Antebellum era to the present day. I loved this quote from her introduction paragraph:
"American Identity has long been defined by mobility and the freedom of the open road, but African Americans have never fully shared in that freedom."
I have always felt this to be true even to this very day. So many black people still and will always have that fear of traveling safely and not being discriminated against, this is something that the white race will never know about or how it feels to travel as the minority race. I absolutely loved the intro chapter ' The Road to Plessy'. I learned quite a bit about how the Antebellum south came to be, even though I already knew some of the facts, there was a lot of information that I was unaware of in this chapter. She covers all sorts of subject areas around the Jim Crow era such as; legalizing segregation and how that came to be in travel, they key civil rights cases of this time, and so much more.
A colored only taxi, Birmingham, Alabama 1963 (pg. 225 - Traveling Black)
One of the most fascinating things I learned was about the history of so many well known companies and businesses such as; The NY Globe - I honestly did not know that it was a black weekly paper back in the day, or about the history of Greyhound, Trailways, Ford, and many more companies and the roles that they played in segregation during the Jim Crow era. As someone who still uses a lot of these transportation companies, it made me think twice about who is actually behind these massive well known companies. It was absolutely fascinating to read about the stories of individuals who faced segregation and to see it come to fruition and become legalized. That beginning chapter was stellar. You learn all about the companies that didn't cater to black travelers within aviation, restaurants, airline companies, and more.
Although this may seem like it would be a dense and difficult read, it was actually very digestible. All due to the great writing of Mia Bay. I loved how she threw in real life accounts from past travelers, to quoting companies that contributed with segregation, and I especially loved all of the incredible images that she included within each chapter, such as this image below featured in the Traveling by Train (pg. 65) chapter.
They were absolutely daunting and brilliant and helped tie in certain topics she would discuss within each chapter.
As you read the book, it becomes quite comprehensible and flows much easier. I enjoyed learning simple facts such how blacks were taken advantage of when it came to insurance policies on their cars, this chapter was fascinating! I learned about what it was like for blacks to own a car and the difficulties they faced while on the road.
Railroad advertisement typically featured white passengers and Black servants, as can be seen in this 1880s print advertisement extolling the virtues of meal service aboard the Chicago and Alton Railroad. (pg. 65 - Traveling Black)
One other amazing fact that I didn't know was that they only stopped making wooden JIm Crow cars (trains) in the 1950s. They finally had to stop having them because so many trains would crash and catch fire and only the black people would die in these events because the blacks were always sat in the front of the train...
"...so that in the case of a head on collision, the 'Negroes' will get killed first."
The Great Train Wreck of 1918 (Wikipedia) (pg. 73 - Traveling Black)
How horrible was that. No accountability, no remorse, nothing. No wonder some of these wounds never heal, it's almost ingrained in black people up until this day and this is something that white people will never ever understand. The privilege they have is deeply ingrained in them too.
In the chapters about Traveling by Car, I enjoyed reading about the well known The Negro Motorist Greenbook, and many others like it. This book was a lifeline for anyone traveling by car in the Jim Crow era. Bay dedicated a chapter to this specific book and the creation of the book as a guide to fellow black travelers.
A Black airman from New York City reads the "Colored Waiting Room" sign in the segregated Terminal Station in Atlanta, Georgia, 1956. (pg 266 - Traveling Black)
I even enjoyed the chapters on Traveling for Civil Rights, and Traveling for Freedom.
"..by the beginning of the 1960s the South's Jim Crow buses, trains, and public accommodations had become a highly public symbol of the nation's failure to live up to its own democratic ideals."
(pg. 278 - Traveling Black)
Freedom Fighters being arrested at the Tallahassee Municipal Airport, June 16, 1961 (pg. 282)
"With the passage of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, African Americans across the country ventured out to restaurants, hotels, barbershops, swiming pools, bowling halls and countless other facilities to test its impact. In doing so, they made history while engaged in otherwise everyday activities..."
(pg. 303 - Traveling Black)
I loved that the last few essays focused on how traveling while black looks like in our current climate and touches on subjects such as, racial profiling and how it all started and evolved to our current time. She discusses how black people to this day are still being racially profiled when flying and how traveling black is still an ongoing issue in this country. I will say that it is also a beacon of hope and continues resistance within the black race. Black people have always been a fighting force and will always fight for injustices brought upon them. This is the message that I got after reading this incredible book.
This was an absolutely fantastic insightful and riveting read. You will learn a lot about segregation in travel during the Jim Crow era, you will learn about the first black pilots and aviation within the African American race, which is something I knew very little about, and all about world records and achievements in aviation, you will also learn why you hardly saw any black pilots back in that day and age. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about what it was like for black people to travel across the united states during the Jim Crow era up until today. This is a great book for students who are studying a similar topic to the resistance during the civil rights era. I will add that this book is a fantastic read for this year's Black History Month theme of 'Black Resistence'. It questions if black people will ever truly be free in their own country. I loved every single chapter and I would highly recommend it.
While I am here, I will also recommend a great article by the NY Times about the lack of black pilots in aviation titled, "The End of the All-Male, All-White cockpit". They touched on a lot of topics that were covered in this read.
Love this dong for a long time! It also felt appropriate! My song pick is "Rosa Parks" by Outkast. Rosa Parks, bus, transport, traveling black. You get the gist of it!
Genre: Nonfiction | History | Race
Pages: 400 Pages
Publication Date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: Belknap Press