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  • Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance by Mia Bay
  • Karen Kossie-Chernyshev
Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance. By Mia Bay. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press: 2021. Pp. 391. Illustrations, notes, index.)

Located at the intersection of race, class, gender, and geography, Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance takes readers on a well-guided scholarly journey through Black travel experiences from the antebellum period to the present. The key takeaways are that the racialized experiences of Black travelers did not begin in the South with the Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), were not gender sensitive, impacted Blacks regardless of status, varied from place to place, were accommodated outside the South, and did not end definitively with the civil rights movement.

Bay examines the history of segregated travel in chapter 1, noting that Jim Crow cars and accommodations emerged first in the North and moved South. White southerners became preoccupied with Black mobility upon emancipation; the Plessy decision therefore constituted the culmination, not the beginning, of a protracted struggle that had begun at least a decade earlier. Bay begins each subsequent chapter with the travel experience of a Black woman, man, group, or organization from various locations, thereby underscoring that race mattered most regardless of multiple identity markers.

In chapter 2, Bay argues that Blacks could not fully appreciate the golden age of the American railroad because of Jim Crow. As railroad companies strove to satisfy southern customers, Blacks departing from as far west as Chicago had to purchase tickets for segregated cars to prepare for crossing state lines in the South. Simply purchasing tickets required Black travelers to wait until all Whites had done so, even though they were relegated to the Jim Crow car, and Blacks who could pay for first-class accommodations were not guaranteed a first-class travel experience.

In chapter 3, Bay posits that, as new technologies and industries emerged, so too did new forms of discrimination and Black responses to them. Automobiles eliminated riding in segregated trains, but Black drivers encountered discrimination and even mob violence stemming from Whites’ negative reaction to Blacks’ owning cars. Some southern Whites [End Page 387] called for Jim Crow highways and complex “racial right-of-way” rules (124). Even if Black drivers escaped more malign travel experiences, they found it difficult to purchase food on the road, find service stations, or secure lodging. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Blacks addressed the problem by publishing specialized guide books to facilitate their own travel.

Chapter 4 examines the emergence of Black drivers as entrepreneurs and investors. As the bus industry emerged, Black-owned lines largely disappeared by the 1930s, unable to compete with companies like National Trailways and Greyhound. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People responded to discriminatory practices by suing various bus companies, but it was unsuccessful. Significantly, the ubiquitous nature of discriminatory bus practices and Black resistance to them helped catalyze the civil rights movement.

Chapter 5 uses historian C. Van Woodard’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow as a point of departure, noting that segregated air travel predated commercial airlines. Charles Lindbergh believed firmly that Blacks could not fly airplanes, and members of the United States military agreed. Blacks were barred admission to aviation schools, and those determined to fly were forced to train abroad. Similarly, Black passengers were the first to be bumped from flights when more space was needed, and White southerners found creative ways to segregate airport restaurants, restrooms, and waiting rooms. Black athletes and entertainers with the financial resources to fly were among the first African Americans to challenge Jim Crow in the air.

Chapter 6 focuses on a variety of cases aimed at securing accommodations that were truly “separate but equal” or wholly overturning segregation. World War II was a particularly tense period, as civilians and Blacks in the military started resisting segregated travel with increasing defiance. Particularly intriguing is the discussion of Congressman Arthur Wergs Mitchell’s and attorney Thurgood Marshall’s distinct approaches. Marshall’s decision to challenge Jim Crow using the commerce clause of the United States Constitution ultimately proved to be the winning...