Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance

Mia Bay. Belknap, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-674-97996-3
Historian Bay (To Tell the Truth Freely) delivers a comprehensive survey of the relationship between travel restrictions, racial segregation, and civil rights in America. According to Bay, travel segregation began in the antebellum North, where free Black passengers were made to ride on the outside of stagecoaches and steamboats. After emancipation, Southern states passed laws requiring separate accommodations for Black and white travelers. Even when Black train passengers paid first-class ticket fares, Bay notes, they were relegated to dirty smoker cars. Automobiles offered more comfort and privacy for long-distance trips, but Black drivers could not depend on reliable access to service stations, food, or lodging. Some early airlines, meanwhile, refused Black passengers altogether. When buses emerged as the most accessible mode of intercity and interstate public transit in the 1930s and ’40s, they also became the focus of civil rights activism. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided the legal framework that would eventually desegregate common carriers and public accommodations, but Bay argues that Black travelers still experience danger and discrimination in the form of higher prices for car insurance, less-reliable public transportation, and racial profiling by law enforcement. Though somewhat dry, this meticulous account proves that “Black mobility [is] an enduring focal point of struggles over equality and difference.” (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/30/2020
Release date: 03/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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