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ROAD TRIPPIN’ Summer Vacations & Family Memories

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It is summer! Even though it is an unconventional one, it is one where people are taking to the road. They are getting out of the house for sightseeing, camping, beach days, and yes “road tripping”! At one time, this was the way that African Americans traveled with their Green Book in hand; the car stocked with food, children in the back seat, the radio playing, and lots of memories. There were no cell phones, apps or social media… but there was the company of family and friends, new experiences and the communal nature of it all.
Children playing at the beach
Hairstylist Antonio Anderson’s (1965 – ) talked about the family vacation where his “stepfather [Herman Johnson], won… five hundred dollars and took the whole family on a vacation… we drove down to Pensacola [Florida]… we were on the beach, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, and we swam almost every day.”[1]
Leland Melvin with his father Deems and sister Cathy
Leland Melvin with his father, Deems and sister, Cathy
Former astronaut Leland Melvin (1964 – ), who logged almost 600 hours in space, remembered contemplating the night sky as a young boy on his family’s summer vacation: “One time we were in the Smoky Mountains, and I remember at night just looking up into the night sky and seeing how bright the stars were without the light pollution being in the city. And… it was just fascinating how many little pin pricks in the velvet there were. And seeing the milky way or seeing just all this stuff, it’s kind of hard to explain how did it get there, what’s up there, how does it work, how are we connected. All the ‘how’ questions came from again these road trips and these experiences looking up into the night sky, or travelling to the beach and seeing all the grains of sand and looking at the waves and tide of the ocean coming in which was… dictated by the influences of the moon. And so, seeing the moon rise off the horizon and the sun set on the other side, and seeing these kind of cosmic activities going on, but not being able to really explain them, was just again, fueled my curiosity about science and our planet and the connectiveness of people living and working in this environment.”[2]
Station wagon on a road trip
For physicist Wendell Hill (1952 – ), family vacations were times for both learning and bonding: “We had a family vacation almost every year. And most of our vacations were camping… we got as far as Washington in the North, and as far West as… Wyoming and… Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert, all that area and then all the stuff in between… we spent a lot of time together, couple of weeks. It was inexpensive, and we got to learn a lot about how to survive. And we would see bears and all sorts of stuff out there… And so it was just the four of us, put the tent in the back of the station wagon, and we’d head off.”[3]
Restroom sign
Former school superintendent Ruth Love (1939 – ) added: “For a number of years, during the summer, we would pile in the car and drive to Oklahoma. And I vowed if I ever became an adult, I would never drive longer than 100 miles, and I don’t. Because we’d sit in the car, after we ate the fried chicken and all that business, and sang and worried my parents to death then we’d get irritable because it was too long. And in those days you couldn’t use the restroom facilities, they were the black and white, no, colored and white…. You couldn’t stop at the restaurants all that so it was a hassle. So we’d get enough gas to go as far as we could….” Still: “once we got there, we enjoyed ourselves,…we really enjoyed it… when we were coming home, we were joyous.”[4]
African Americans could be terrorized or assaulted if they stopped while driving through the Deep South towns enforced rules like the one above.Road travel did require extreme precautions if you were black as noted by investment banker Frederick Terrell (1954 – ): “We’d get in the car and we would do cross country trips. I remember driving to visit my relatives in the South and turning on the lights at night when we were traveling, because we’d always travel at night because black people weren’t really moving around too much in the daytime. I remember turning on the light to try to get a sandwich because… you carried all your food in the trunk. All the food was with you, and we had no clue about vacation. We were just travelling in the car and I remember him, ‘Turn that light off.’ I didn’t get it, but, you know you didn’t travel in Mississippi or Tennessee. ”[5]
The Negro Travelers’ Green Book 1959 edition
Chemist Albert N. Thompson, Jr. (1946 – ) noted that the Negro Travelers’ Green Book was a must have for road travel:  “It told them where they could stop and friendly places to get gasoline, where they could eat. And a lot of people opened up their homes for overnight guests… I also remember my father always carrying his gun. That was the first thing he’d put in the car before we packed our suitcases… my father would always say, ‘Nelson, put my gun in the car.’ It was always under the seat because we had to stop on the side of the road to sleep… We never drove through the middle of Mississippi. We always drove on the coastline, U.S. 90, Gulfport Biloxi [Mississippi] because you only had to spend about 90 to 100 miles in Mississippi… we had to pack our food and lunch.”[6]
The Reed family left to right Clevon Jr. Carrie Cordell and Clevon Sr. 1941
The Reed family (left to right)- Clevon, Jr., Carrie, Cordell, and Clevon, Sr., 1941
Corporate executive Cordell Reed (1938 – 2017) and his brother saw explicit segregation for the first time while travelling south from Chicago: “My brother saw a water fountain, ‘Colored only’ and he didn’t even know what they meant. He went over to the other [‘White only’] water fountain just because it was closer… and he did not know any better… you didn’t have to get too far south of Chicago before Dad and Mom would get very cautious.[7]
Historic U.S. Route 66
Political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson (1945 – ), looked back on his family’s travels along the historic Route 66 as an eight and nine year old, with his brown-skinned father and his light-skinned, white-passing mother: “Route 66, the classic Route 66 was the way you traveled from Chicago… to California. And what they would do they would take the northern route and they would take the southern route back, the 66 route. And I remember 66 as you know took you through Texas and New Mexico, Arizona, but especially Texas. And always there, earliest memories, I remember that he would send my mother in [to get food]… she could walk through the front and he would kind of sneak around and hide you know the car in the back so they couldn’t look out and see that he was sitting there in the car… but she would always go in and she was the designated getting the food person. And so I remember the food of record was hamburgers (laughter) and so she would come out with the hamburgers and the French fries, and we sit in the car eat them.”[8]
Los Angeles Coliseum c.1950s22 Mel Farr L running the ball for UCLA against USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum November 19 1966The late former NFL player, 1967 NFL Rookie of the Year and entrepreneur Mel Farr, Sr. (1944 – 2015), in his interview described family vacations as a path forward to his career: “Our summer vacations we would drive from Beaumont, Texas to Los Angeles, California to visit my mother’s sister there and we use to go there every other summer and I can remember you know driving and… these are things that… are very important in my developing and self-development is that my father and mother did give us an opportunity to see life outside of Beaumont, Texas… and I will always remember the time that we went to the Coliseum. At that time the Los Angeles Dodgers was playing at–in the Coliseum, and going out in the Coliseum and looking at this big arena, seeing my heroes that I grew up admiring, playing baseball… Roy Campanella and… Maury Wills and those… kind of guys, and… I told my dad, I said, ‘One day, I’m going to play in this stadium’… So all those are the kind of things that inspired me to go back to Beaumont, Texas, get my education, become the best possible football player.”[9]
Governor’s Palace Colonial Williamsburg Virginia
Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Lawyer Col. Will Gunn 1986
Lawyer Col. Will Gunn, 1986

This was also the case with Harvard-trained lawyer Col. Will Gunn (1958 – ), the first Chief Defense Counsel for the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions: “My father [Willy Julian Gunn] would, took us on various vacations as I was growing up and those vacations made a last, lasting impressions on me. In fact, in 1967 we made the major trip of my youth which I still think, think about very fondly… we went from Sebring [Florida] to Cape Canaveral where we observed the space program. Then we went from Cape Canaveral; spent a night in Savannah and then went up to Charleston where we visited Fort Sumter; from Fort Sumter we went up to Williamsburg and observed Colonial Williamsburg and I believe it was in Williamsburg where the seeds of becoming lawyer were first planted… it was just a notion of hearing the stories about the Founding Fathers… and seeing how many of them were lawyers really impressed me.”[10]

Times Square New York City c.1950
Times Square, New York City, c.1950
Scholar/activist Angela Davis (1944 – ), recalled summer trips to New York City as a respite from “Bombingham,” Alabama where she grew up, as well as opening a new world: “I remember it was a long drive from Birmingham to New York… I may have been five but probably six, and I suppose having experienced New York at such an early age I developed this desire to see much more than what increasingly became for me a kind of confined provincial climate, intellectual, artistic, social climate in Birmingham. You know I just remember being totally amazed that there could be a city as large as that, that there could be so many people, that there could be so many different kinds of people… I remember being so impressed by hearing black people speaking Spanish… But New York was–totally expanded my sense of what was possible in the world.”[11]
Angela Davis 1954
Angela Davis, 1954
So hit the road, share memories of yesteryear vacations, talk about the issues of today, learn and enjoy!
Family cooking out at a campsiteFamily on the beach c.1960sIdlewild Club House Michigan 1938Lake Michigan Chicago 1973Summer campers enjoying the campgrounds
[1]Antonio Anderson (The HistoryMakers A2006.163), interviewed by Denise Gines, December 12, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Antonio Anderson remembers his first family vacation.
[2] Leland Melvin (The HistoryMakers A2013.018), interviewed by Larry Crowe, January 15, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 10, Leland Melvin describes his family camping trips.
[3]Wendell Hill (The HistoryMakers A2012.226), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 12, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 7, Wendell Hill talks about his family activities.
[4] Ruth Love (The HistoryMakers A2002.103), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, July 3, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Ruth Love describes childhood road trips with her family.
[5] Frederick Terrell (The HistoryMakers A2013.189), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, July 13, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Frederick Terrell recalls his family’s road trips to the South.
[6] Albert N. Thompson, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2012.072), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 20, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Albert Thompson, Jr. explains the Green Book and African American travel.
[7]Cordell Reed (The HistoryMakers A2002.106), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, July 2, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 11, Cordell Reed recalls taking family trips as a youth.
[8] Earl Ofari Hutchinson (The HistoryMakers A2008.116), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 20, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, Earl Ofari Hutchinson remembers his family’s cross country road trips, pt. 2.
[9]Mel Farr, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2002.151), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 21, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Mel Farr remembers early family trips to California and vowing to play in the Coliseum.
[10]Col. Will Gunn (The HistoryMakers A2013.158), interviewed by Larry Crowe, July 26, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 12, Will Gunn describes his family’s road trip the summer of 1967, and his inspiration to become a lawyer.
[11]Angela Davis (The HistoryMakers A2003.124), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 7, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Angela Davis recalls a childhood trip to New York with family friends.

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