How Black People Stayed Safe While Traveling During Jim Crow

black man drinking from a fountained labeled "colored"
Leslie Taylor-Grover
March 9, 2022

During Jim Crow, white people did everything they could to ruin the travel experiences of our people, when we were simply minding our business. No mode of travel was safe from their hatred. From driving to flying, they were there, worrying the Hell out of us. But then something happened.

In 1922, Rev. Joseph Bowler wrote a letter to the Chicago Defender exposing white people’s cruelty by  describing his “Jim Crow Travel Kit.” It wasn’t sold in stores, and most Black travelers had their own version! 

What exactly was in his kit?

Bowler’s kit contained work overalls for protection from animal waste and tobacco white people left on seats, a small stove for cooking since many businesses refused to serve Black customers, and a small tabletop to use. 

These were useful no matter the mode of travel, but road trips required even more ingenuity to protect ourselves.

Black road travelers often carried “green books” for safe places to eat or stay overnight, pre-cooked meals, and of course guns! 

After all, white terrorists were always there to attack, humiliate, and harass us, and roads were wide open.

Knowing the perils of travel, we created innovative ways to survive any journey. Jim Crow travel kits remind us of our ability to survive attacks on our humanity and the need to keep using our creativity to fight white supremacy!

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