Before #TravelNoire, the Black Travel movement may have seemed like an upper-class privilege – limited to the few but desired by many. But a historical perspective shows that more than just money may have impacted our ability (and desire) to explore all that America has to offer. While the breadth of the African diaspora and our cross-continent connectedness demonstrates how vast we are, our American travel culture has been greatly shaped by the historical oppression of the right to free movement.
From the 1890s until 1965, segregation laws such as the Jim Crow laws legitimized the isolation of public spaces, schools, transportation, restrooms and restaurants exclusively for non-Black members of society. ‘The vast majority of the country was composed of white spaces where Black people were forbidden or unwelcome,’ Dr. Gretchen Sorin wrote in her article, ‘The Negro Travelers Green Book.'”
Before travel was dominated by airplanes and automobiles, segregated trains made travel uncomfortable for Black passengers: not only did the “colored only” section lack amenities, Black passengers were also prohibited from eating in the dining car, or using many (if any) restaurants and facilities along the route.
Since we couldn’t eat on or off the train, the “shoebox lunch,” was packaged by Black women relatives or community members and full of “foods which traveled well: boiled eggs, a piece of pound cake, pineapple upside down cake or sweet potato pie, a serving of fruit or vegetable, sandwiches, and almost always, fried chicken.”
Now that’s some soul food.