When I was a freshman in high school, we moved from a comfortable home in the heart of Phoenix to the boonies, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. My dad worked in Indian Health Service, and he got a job at the hospital there. We lived in the “compound,” a group of homes constructed for the government employees.
There, stray dogs were endemic, and horses also ran wild, their coats knotted and their tails tangled. One horse left us a gift the day we moved in: a gigantic dump of manure two feet from the front door.
My time on the reservation was the first time I was a true minority, and it was an eye-opening experience. Here I was among people who not only looked different than I did, but spoke differently, and had a different culture. I rode the bus into Globe, about 20 miles, because there was no high school on the rez. All the way into town we sat silently on the bus, not talking. The driver played music as we wound along the remote road, mesas to the left of us and arroyos to the right. A bus full of white kids was a raucous affair – everyone chattering and laughing and moving back and forth to different seats. Not so Indian buses. On the weekends, strains of traditional Apache music filtered from the radio, across the parched earth. I had two good friends – twins who were Indians from Mexico. The other kids called us “Oreo” because when we would walk the two darker girls were on either side of me, the white one.
Soon enough we moved into town and I was once again in the majority. I was reminded of my experience when researching for various freelance writing jobs that dealt with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the surprising pieces of information I learned was that African Americans could not just jump in their cars and travel across the country in the early to mid 20th century (and probably beyond, too, depending on where they went). They had to be careful to stay in placed that welcomed them. Places they would be safe, and accepted. They had to make use of guides like this one, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book:
Take a look at the page for Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas. It’s sobering to see that some listings are for personal homes, because hotels or motels in the area couldn’t be trusted. The same was true for other travelers’ services.
About Comics in Camarillo, California has recently begun reprinting old copies of the guides, which were published from 1936 through the 1960s when at last legal segregation was outlawed. These guides provide a sobering, and educational, look at the history of everyday life, and what it meant to live in a country where skin color was – and still is – so crucial to one’s experience.