Traveling as a colored child has been my greatest adventure while also experiencing unlimited inconveniences. The colored travel experience during Jim Crow could involve frustration, indignities, and even danger. Each summer, as my grandmother Martha traveled “up North”, taking myself and my cousin Skippy, she prepared for the experience.
“Granny,” as we affectionately called her, would hire one of her tenants (she rented rooms to fishermen and men working on roads in the area) to drive up to Delaware, Washington, D.C., or New York to visit family. The tires, engine, and water tank were checked thoroughly before the trip as she did not want to have a mishap or repair to be needed while on the unfriendly road. The driver was coached on maintaining the speed limit, especially in small rural towns, and being aware of law enforcement. Granny always packed a delicious lunch of fried chicken, fruits, pound cake and other goodies that would last us the entire trip North.
Our first stop was Jacksonville with a cousin. Granny always left a $20 bill under the scarf on the dresser. I often wondered if that was a ritual that all colored travelers followed. We got up early and traveled only in the daylight. We had to make our next stop with family by dark. My grandmother was not aware of the “Green Book” that guided the travel of colored during Jim Crow.
Our gas tank was never less than half-filled, as the driver would inquire if there was a colored restroom before filling up with gas. If there was a restroom, it was usually filthy. What excited my cousin and I most was stopping to take photos at state “Welcome” signs.
When we crossed the Mason-Dixon line, we were able to eat in restaurants on the freeway. Big Boy’s was always our first stop, a tradition I followed with my own children.
My mother and I traveled from Florida to Virginia by train, of course going to the colored ticket window and using the colored restroom in the small waiting area. We would be the last allowed to board the train, sitting in the colored car. When possible, we would have a meal in the small area of the dining car reserved for colored. As I recall, the excitement of travel, which remains with me some seventy years later, was a more powerful feeling than the indignities of segregation and discrimination.
My greatest anxiety, however, was reserved for my father, who would travel by car to and from Virginia. While my family did not talk about being colored in America, the specter of violence always loomed, especially as it related to Daddy, a colored male. This was always a fearful time for my mother, myself, and my whole family. Without fail, Daddy would be stopped in Jesup, Georgia. "Boy, you are driving too fast," or "Boy, you were driving too slow." Daddy learned to expect this and would carry enough extra money to pay the fine. This, however, was safer than his traveling along a rural road.
I can only imagine the fear that he must have felt, the imaginings that went through his head. My colored Daddy endured this on each trip. He had to stand with his head bowed, eyes lowered, and his voice passive. He swallowed the anger as he had been trained to do but at what cost? What did this do to his pride? As a man, how must he have felt being subservient to another man, a man who, in those moments, had my father's life in his hands? But my father had no choice -- one wrong move, one indicator of being a man, of having dignity, could have cost my father his life.
My greatest personal anxiety came when I had to ride the bus on Fridays for fifty miles from school in Sarasota to home in Punta Gorda for six years. That is another experience and another story.