Black History Month: One Story of How Black Americans Shaped the Travel Industry
February 19, 2021 By Roger Dow, Former President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association
This Black History Month, many across our industry have shared stories that inspired, educated and informed a better, more complete understanding of the history of Black Americans. In that spirit, I’ve been drawn to a connection to civil rights history that began at the very doorstep of U.S. Travel’s present-day office in Washington, D.C.
From our location on New York Avenue, which in the 1960s served as a Greyhound bus terminal, a group of Freedom Riders departed for a journey through the American South in May 1961 to test southern states’ compliance to the 1960 Supreme Court decision (Boynton v. Virginia) that segregation of interstate transportation facilities, including bus terminals, was unconstitutional. The riders—which included the late Congressman John Lewis, a giant of the civil rights movement—sought to use whites-only restrooms, lunch counters and waiting rooms.
The courageous journey through the segregated South was challenging. The group encountered hostility in Virginia and South Carolina and one of the buses was bombed in Alabama, forcing the Freedom Riders off the bus and into an angry mob; many were beaten and arrested. Rides and protests continued over the next several months, often fraught with violence.
Ultimately, the demonstrations led the Interstate Commerce Commission to reaffirm the Supreme Court’s decision by issuing regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals—a significant win in the fight for civil rights that forever changed travel in America.
This is just one powerful story of how Black Americans shaped our country’s history at a time when access to travel was not equal or inclusive. I encourage all who visit our office upon its reopening to take a moment and view the display in our building’s lobby that commemorates the Freedom Riders and remember what these brave Americans did not only for the betterment of our industry, but for our country.
As U.S. Travel commemorates Black History Month, I’m proud to highlight some examples of how the story of Black America is being shared across our industry:
- Black industry leaders joined U.S. Travel’s webinar series to discuss how marketers can better connect with Black travelers, acknowledging that travel marketing has historically not always reflected our nation’s diverse populace.
- In Nashville, the new National Museum of African American Music opened its doors to tell the history of Black music and its impact on the world.
- The Louisiana Office of Tourism unveiled its new Louisiana Civil Rights Trail, which interprets the events of the 1950s and 1960s that shaped the civil rights movement in the state.
- The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce is encouraging Americans to plan a visit to the Alabama city that was the epicenter of the civil rights movement, elevating important sites such as the EJI’s Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace & Justice and the Rosa Parks Library.
- The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau is promoting Black-owned businesses and restaurants, as well as the city’s Black Heritage Trail.
- Destination DC has a guide to Black culture and history in the District, including free things to do and where to find Black-owned restaurants.
- NYC & Company launched its new “The Black Experience in NYC” content series, which includes neighborhood guides, videos, interviews, articles, roundups of Black-owned businesses and more to be added over time.
Thank you to all of our members who are elevating the history, stories and voices of Black Americans not just this month, but throughout the year. By looking to the past, we can see how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go.
Photo courtesy of the Art Deco Society of Washington.
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