Many of you may have never heard of the publication the Negro Motorist Green Book, created by Victor H. Green, an African American postal worker from Harlem. Published from 1936 to 1967, the guide listed specific cities, entertainment venues, accommodations, and other businesses that were known to be tolerant of and welcoming to African American travelers. It was a game changer in the Jim Crow era, providing African Americans with a new sense of security when blatantly racially motivated and violent laws and the advent of “sundown towns” had made it dangerous for them to travel.
But the Green Book was not the only guide. Another African American postal worker, this one from Baltimore, started his own log in 1965. Instead of creating something for others to use out of concern for their embarrassment and safety, he was documenting his family’s travels through the 48 contiguous states. This man was my grandfather, and he and his wife (although very aware of the effects of racism) took no apparent notice of what was simmering in the United States the week they decided to pack up their three daughters and hitch a trailer to their car. The day they left, August 10, 1965, fell during the week that the Civil Rights Voting Act was signed and the Watts riots erupted.
Yes, my grandparents, Benjamin and Frances Graham, had a trailer in 1965. But the notion of them as African Americans owning a trailer and traveling across the United States in it was never unusual to me. By the time I showed up on the scene, in 1976, they were on their third trailer, and that always seemed quite normal. I had an amazing childhood, partially thanks to my grandparents’ wanderlust. As kids, my sister, my cousin, and I would spend the hot, lazy summer days “up the country,” running wild at a campsite in West Virginia. This is where I became enamored with the outdoors, as I was allowed to fuel my sticky, roasted-marshmallow dreams gazing at the entire universe above, dotted with infinite stars. I grew up seeing pennants from the many places my grandparents had traveled by trailer. They had slideshows and Polaroids that documented their adventures across the United States. When I grew up, my parents purchased their own trailer, and now they too have made some pretty epic trips across the country, racking up a long list of places visited. I thought that’s what most African American families did.