Andrews: Is the past prologue?
The first time I heard about the Negro Motorist Green Book, also known as the Green Book, I was attending a church service led by the Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. in Somerset, New Jersey. During his remarks, he shared how family would travel from the northeast to the southeast, which was interesting enough, but what truly caught my attention was the additional planning it took for that journey to begin.
I was confused. In Utah, if you wanted to go somewhere, you simply hopped in the car and went. Rev. Soaries continued his sermon, stating that while Black car ownership was limited, an emerging Black middle class bought cars as soon as they could, even amid dangers and inconveniences along the road — everything from the refusal of food and shelter to refusal for car repair and even arbitrary arrest. It seemed a better deal than engaging in the segregation of public transportation, but not by much.
Rev. Soaries continued, highlighting the work of Victor Hugo Green, a New York City postal worker who took it upon himself to direct people to services that were open or friendly to Black people on their journey. His annual travel guide for Black travelers outlined safe places to stop, rest, eat and sleep. Published from 1936 to 1966, it covered the timespan of Jim Crow laws, when discrimination was legal and common to the civil rights work of the mid to late 1960s.
Travelers had to be aware that they were not stopped in sundown towns where all-white municipalities and neighborhoods engaged in racial segregation that excluded non-whites through discriminatory local laws, intimidation and violence. The phrase was normalized by postings that said “colored people” had to leave town by sundown. To be clear, this was not only in the South but also included states like New Jersey or Oregon, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa that created laws and legislation to restrict Black people from living within their borders.
I was reminded of this sermon and the Green Book when I learned that the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Equality Florida joined together to issue a travel advisory for the state of Florida, warning potential tourists that recent laws and policies coming from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers were “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Furthermore, the trio of organizations noted that the state of Florida “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.” Mayors from a variety of cities, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, indicated that “everyone will be welcome and treated with dignity and respect” — “regardless of what happens in Tallahassee,” the state capital.
Now, you might be asking yourself, why does this matter to us in Utah? Let Floridians govern themselves and we will govern ourselves and all will be fine.
The reality is, we are only fine until it directly impacts us.
This June, we’re fortunate to have numerous opportunities to celebrate. For example, Utah PRIDE lasts all month with events, festivals and activities taking place up and down the Wasatch Front, validating us for our common humanity and fighting shame, guilt and stigma attached to sexual orientation with community and allies.
June 12, also known as Loving Day, is a time to honor the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Loving v. Virginia, which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. (That uncommon word meant laws that enforced racial segregation at the level of marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes sex between people of different races/ethnicities.) Were it not so, I might not be married to my husband.
As the month winds down, we can celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice, better known as Eid al-Adha, on June 29. This celebration is not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr, known to mark the end of Ramadan with the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Eid al-Adha marks the end of Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. For those who don’t know or whose memories need to be refreshed (I know mine did), a Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca. My friend and colleague, Rasha Qudisat, shared that the Hajj tells the world that everyone is equal, regardless of identity, when making the Hajj.
I’m so grateful that in Utah we can share these events and celebrations with each other or choose not to celebrate them at all. It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to make choices even when we don’t agree. It’s a gift to feel safe in one’s place of residence.
Yet, you can imagine why I was so rattled to see the clock turning back in a place I have been before and hoped to travel to again with my family. Will I be safe, welcome, included? What about my Hispanic and Latino friends who visit and need medical attention? The state law now requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms; critics argue this move was made to dissuade undocumented people in Florida from seeking medical attention. Will our LGBTQ+ family and friends be welcome in a place where books with gay characters are removed from school libraries?
As we begin to honor our shared history with Juneteenth on June 19, would my history be welcome in Florida, where this might count as “woke” language? I thought we were done with Green Books. I thought that time had passed. Perhaps I’m wrong.
Adrienne Andrews is the vice president of equity, diversity and inclusion at Weber State University. Twitter: AdieAndrewsCDO