How far we haven't come

Continuing the discussion from Driving through Alabama:

@teknocholer posted a link to something I hadn’t seen before and it sucked away my evening. Moving my response to a new thread so as not to derail the discussion there. I think this deserves lots of visibility.

(Unpleasant Topic Warning: If you’re in a good mood, this might spoil it. Go enjoy the day and skip this topic for now.)

This was the link:

I second that. And wow what a read. Even just the wikipedia article and the links therefrom give so much context. One of the things that stood out was that, although the south was inhospitable, the north and midwest could be even worse in some ways, since they didn’t have much black population - while the south had to have accommodations, the north and midwest didn’t really see the need for them.

Following on from the links:

not one hotel or other accommodation was open to blacks in Salt Lake City […] Across the whole state of New Hampshire, only three motels in 1956 served African Americans. […]
The state of New Mexico was particularly recommended as a place where most motels would welcome “guests on the basis of ‘cash rather than color.” […] Only six percent of the more than 100 motels that lined U.S. Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, admitted black customers.

Note: New Hampshire is as far north as you can get before being in Canada. For New Mexico to be ‘particularly recommended’ at a 6% acceptance rate says something - that the alternatives were places like Salt Lake City.

The Malian embassy in Washington passed along to Pedro Sanjuan, the assistant chief of protocol for the State Department, three letters it had received in 1961 from the American Nazi Party and included an analysis of the situation facing African diplomats who wished to travel in the United States. Malian officials found that “movements of African diplomats assigned to New York and Washington, are reduced, for these two cities, to a corridor constituted by Route 40 and the New Jersey Turnpike, which link the two cities. And their movements are free only if they do not get out of their automobiles.”“1961%20from%20the%20American%20Nazi%20Party”#v=onepage

Many of those diplomats experienced great difficulty finding acceptable accommodations in the D.C. area, and the White House soon learned that only eight of 200 apartments available for rent in the capital were open to blacks. […] Kennedy searched for a solution. He first angrily asked why African ambassadors simply did not fly from Washington to New York to avoid the problem."He%20first%20angrily%20asked%20why"

Note: New York, Maryland, and D.C., although D.C. and Maryland were on the border, were notably not Confederate states. This is not a southern thing. And this is worthy of emphasis: “their movements are free only if they do not get out of their automobiles.” That is chilling. And the description of Kennedy’s initial response…

It’s hard to believe that in over half a century we’ve only gotten from this:

“there will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go as we please”

to this:

The NAACP Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri, effective through August 28th, 2017, calls for African American travelers, visitors and Missourians to pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state given the series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently, and noted therein.


Some thoughts:

  • The quotes from people who were actually traveling back then, or trying to, are extremely poignant. We were taught in school that there was segregation, but it was never presented like this - from the point of view of people who wanted to travel but had a hard time finding a safe way to do so.
  • It shows clearly that the misconception that this is just a southern redneck former-confederate state issue is incorrect - this is an all of us everywhere issue.
  • The note that the American Nazi Party was causing us international problems in the 1960s - long after WWII and long before Trump - highlights that this is an ongoing thing. They might’ve been quiet for awhile, but the idea that they vanished at the end of WWII and some neo imitators sprang up recently is misguided - they’ve always been among us.
  • The very idea that we’re regressing toward that past, and sundown towns is mind-boggling. We literally have a thread asking whether it’s safe to travel through a state. That is chilling.

Thanks for sharing.

I have to quibble that Maryland was a southern state. The name Dixie comes from Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Some of the first fighting of the war came in a secess attack on Union troops in Maryland. The official state song condemns “Northern Scum.”


On the one hand, it’s obvious that we haven’t come very far at all. On the other hand, we refuse to admit this.

I learned in school that Americans were never antisemitic, and that the civil rights movement solved the problems of racism for once and for all. On the other hand, I am sentient, so I know that’s not true at all.

Literally everyone I knew growing up was a “polite racist” who accepted horribly racist shit without questioning it but just didn’t use the bad words in public. I guess the problem was that we had this cartoonish vision of what racism is and what equality is, etc, and didn’t take the time to try to figure out the truth. We didn’t even see the value in that whole process, or in growing as a person. We accepted a lot at face value, and would take it personally when our assumptions were challenged.

Another part of it is that we think if we don’t think about it, and we don’t see it, and it exists outside our little social bubble, it doesn’t exist.