In about 1971 in Georgia, the skies opened up on our family trip back home to North Carolina from our vacation in Florida, so when we saw the glowing red vacancy sign, we were elated. We pulled up close to the door and a man came out in a trench coat with a big umbrella, a welcoming smile on his face. But as soon as the inside light popped on, revealing my mother, father, brother and me as black, the man’s smile vanished. He signaled “no” with his hand and retreated. The last thing I saw through the rain-streaked window was the “no” flickering on in front of “vacancy” as we pulled out of the mostly empty parking lot. I was only 6 or 7 but I knew what had happened.
This summer I need to accompany my daughter on her move to California. There are states where I am not comfortable on the roads. I am always afraid that the police will stop me. I am afraid that I will be accused of doing something and the fact that I am a middle-aged lawyer won’t save me. And I am wary of stopping at establishments in towns where I might not be wanted. That is what racism does. It makes you wary, all the time, so we will likely fly despite the risks of airplane travel.
— Valerie Johnson, Durham, N.C.
‘Unless I’m with my white friends, I won’t stop’
Road trips have always been a passion of mine and I will certainly plan a few this summer. However, being a black male has and will continue to keep certain places off limits in my mind. Rolling through a small town and stopping in the local bar has always intrigued me, but unless I’m with my white friends, I won’t stop. There’s simply no knowing who is in there. I’m sure I’ve missed out on a great bar with great people. But it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
— Tyler Beckworth., Los Angeles, Calif.
‘I sweat every detail’
My friends, who are mostly white, have a freedom in making travel plans I never will. I sweat every detail from where we stop for gas, spend the night, even the side roads and detours we take.
I refuse to let fear dictate the choices I make, but there are limits to how much protection even the most abundant caution and vigilance can provide. I’ve been incredibly lucky and never had a racial incident while driving, but I wonder with every trip whether or not this is the time my luck runs out.
— Spencer Gilbert, New York, N.Y.