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POEM: American Black Traveler - Inspired by Candacy Taylor’s Overground Railroad: The Green Book...

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

POEM: American Black Traveler

by Noni

(Inspired by Candacy Taylor’s Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America)

The stories echo in my memory

Driving west to east and south to north--navigating hostility in all directions

Obvious white hoods and cowardice robes in the Deep South

Passive-aggressive signage on hundreds of Sundown Towns further north

Handing room keys to the white folks who just walked in the door

“No Vacancy” signs were only for us.

Driving too many hours without stopping was, unfortunately, the norm

Joyous singing and laughter were sometimes interrupted by humiliation and silence

A driver's hat behind the seat in case you needed to be somebody's "boy" or somebody’s maid

No one speak. Not a peep. Not a word.

One glance at each other and we had said it all… Another terrorizing moment had passed

No one spoke a word for miles.

Little girls squatting in bushes because accommodations for Colored folks were in deplorable conditions

Offensive smells of inhumanity and indecency at "white only" establishments

Parents shielding and protecting their precious ones from violence and horror

We were traveling to spend the summer with family

Getting there… It was an experience.

Port Arthur, Texas, to Natches, Mississippi-from real hot to the center of the sun

36 Hours round-trip--looking out for danger both ways

Police harassment when we were moving

Poisonous snakes in the long grass when we pulled to the side of the road

Everyone carrying brown greasy bags filled with fried chicken or pork chops, and a biscuit

Packed by our loved ones so we wouldn’t have to stop until we reached where we were going.

El Paso, Texas, to Louisiana, was 14 hours, give or take

Columbus, Ohio, to Charlottesville, Virginia meant

Driving through the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee--always traveling at night

Children thought their parents wanted them to sleep or settle down

Parents meticulously planned their safest route, including the best time of day or night.

Los Angeles, California, to Jefferson City, Missouri

27 Hours if you drive straight through

Another “Low Oil” light or a blown head gasket

Hoping for a service station to maintain the car, use the restroom, take a break

Finding, instead, vulgar language hurled in our direction, and moving our young adult children out of the way

We were headed back to school--classes were starting soon… an HBCU.

African-Americans were migrating across the country

Pursuing opportunity meant we had to leave

We had to load up and get out on the road

Traveling for work, college, family reunions, and recreation

Packing cars with children, suitcases, lunches, and fuel

Driving into apprehension and promise.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was ahead of its time

Intending to make traveling conditions better for the Negro

Encouraging businesses to be revolutionary

Open your doors and accept dollars from the 1.5 million travelers annually

Open your eyes to the spending power of a growing Black middle-class.

Courageous and consistent, it was not the only guide but it spanned decades

Cultivating and stimulating Black-owned businesses, many of them women-owned

Grocery stores, hair salons, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and vacation spots, among others

9,500 Safe places where we were welcome

Fun, food, parties, horseback riding, swimming, and baseball

Being American and moving safely and unrestricted

This is freedom.

Much has changed in the way of travel in this country

There are still places where I can cut the racial tension with a dull knife

As far as 2,000 miles away or as close as one school district away

I hold the history of my family, my community, and my own experiences

The evidence of our stories remembered as we affect social change.

Even now, we let our loved ones know when we’re leaving

And when we should arrive at our destination

We confirm our reservation, pack up the car, sync the playlist, then top off the tank

With full tummies and empty bladders, we say a prayer before we head out

The roots of Black travel in America are here--part of the fabric of this place

Every trip creates new stories to echo in our memory.

Each echoes louder than the last.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*This poem is not included in Verbatim, but will be published in Tamasha being released in 2023!

Thank you Black Heritage Society of Washington State, the Washington State History Museum, and the African-American Writers' Alliance (AAWA) for this opportunity.

A very special thank you to @ibrother for capturing this moment.

Most of all, thank you to the author, Candacy A. Taylor for this wonderful work and for capturing and holding our stories!


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