When I was little, music was my escape and a tool to explore other cultures and their history. I remember my father tuning in every morning to K-EARTH 101 Los Angeles radio station. I remember listening to Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and others. Their songs opened my eyes to the past and to exploration. I always imagined how Ray Charles visualized “Georgia” or Otis Redding “Dock of the Bay”. I still remember vividly when my parents took my sisters and me on our first road trip to San Francisco to visit my cousins in Santa Rosa CA. I wanted to see what Otis was talking about and feel when he said, “Rest my bones and watch clouds roll away” and it made sense when I sat there for a few minutes with my mom and Dad. Though my family didn’t have enough money to take us on a ski trips to Telluride CO or a weekend getaway to Maui like my middle school friends in Santa Monica I am grateful for what my parents did by taking us on road trips on the California Coast.
My parents didn’t have this kind of opportunity back in the days. For many African-Americans, domestic and international exploration used to be filled with significant roadblocks. From the late 19th century until the civil rights era, the lack of parity in pay left African-Americans with little to spend on leisure (a disparity that continues to this day); segregation meant substandard seats and service on public transportation; and finding lodging on the road if you were black, in particular, was a challenge, especially in the South. “The Negro Traveler’s Green Book” was published from 1936 until 1964 to give black travelers a list of places where it was safe to stay and to stop. Published by a postal worker named Victor H. Green, the book was used by thousands of African-Americans as they crisscrossed the United States by car. Green optimistically wrote in one edition: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.”
There is no argument that we are making progress in traveling. According to the online website Weekly Travel, the article titled, Reports highlight travel habits of minorities, states that roughly around 50 percent of African Americans in the South travel roughly within 500 miles that is not bad.
African Americans spend an average of $40 billion dollars annually on travel, yet few articles, magazines, books and television shows currently feature African American adventure and international travelers. African Americans venturing out across the planet today still wonder where it is safe to go, how they will be received in various regions of the world, where will they feel welcomed and comfortable and which places offer amenities that will satisfy their unique interests.
In today’s global economy, increasing numbers of African American executives, entertainers, entrepreneurs and professional athletes travel abroad for business. And the large percentage of blacks in the military (26 percent) means many more travel internationally and live abroad, often remaining overseas for a time after their tours of duty. Consequently, word is getting back to the African American community that the racism and specific hardships we experience in America are much more rare abroad. In most places on the planet, we are warmly welcomed and treated very well. Additionally there are numerous African Americans, African American communities and/or venues of African American culture scattered throughout the world.
I, for example made it a habit to travel at least once a year to a city or a state I never visited before. Yes my trip will consist of 500 miles or less but I will save money to go on a longer trip that will require a passport.