Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance

By Mia Bay (NHC Fellow, 2009–10)

American History; African American History; American Civil Rights Movement; Jim Crow Laws; Racial Equality; Racial Segregation; Travel

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021

From the publisher’s description:

Why have white supremacists and Black activists been so focused on Black mobility? From Plessy v. Ferguson to #DrivingWhileBlack, African Americans have fought for over a century to move freely around the United States. Curious as to why so many cases contesting the doctrine of “separate but equal” involved trains and buses, Mia Bay went back to the sources with some basic questions: How did travel segregation begin? Why were so many of those who challenged it in court women? How did it move from one form of transport to another, and what was it like to be caught up in this web of contradictory rules?

From stagecoaches and trains to buses, cars, and planes, Traveling Black explores when, how, and why racial restrictions took shape and brilliantly portrays what it was like to live with them. “There is not in the world a more disgraceful denial of human brotherhood than the ‘Jim Crow’ car of the southern United States,” W. E. B. Du Bois famously declared. Bay unearths troves of supporting evidence, rescuing forgotten stories of undaunted passengers who made it back home despite being insulted, stranded, re-routed, or ignored.

Black travelers never stopped challenging these humiliations and insisting on justice in the courts. Traveling Black upends our understanding of Black resistance, documenting a sustained fight that falls outside the traditional boundaries of the civil rights movement. A masterpiece of scholarly and human insight, this book helps explain why the long, unfinished journey to racial equality so often takes place on the road.

Awards and Prizes
Bancroft Prize (2022); Liberty Legacy Foundation Award (2022); PROSE Award (2022)
History / American History / African American History / American Civil Rights Movement / Jim Crow Laws / Racial Equality / Racial Segregation / Travel /

Bay, Mia (NHC Fellow, 2009–10). Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021.