What’s up, everyone! My name is Lawrence Ross, and if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love black people. Yeah, I know people like to say that, but I truly do. I’m fascinated by who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. And over the past 20 years, I’ve written six books about the black experience, including the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities and my latest joint, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of America’s Campuses.
As a result, I’ve lectured at over 700 colleges and universities, traveling the highways and byways of this country endless times. But there was one project I always wanted to do. What if you drove cross-country as intentionally black as possible? Meaning that you stayed at black-owned hotels, bought gas at black-owned stations and ate at black-owned restaurants whenever possible? And what if you did that while also exploring an earlier, more dangerous time, when traveling while black could be a life-or-death proposition? Well, from June 12 to 18, I’m going to do just that.
Welcome to #TheRootTrip, the blackest cross-country road trip since Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus. The blackity blackest since Janet got in Tupac’s postal truck and hit a random cookout in Poetic Justice. You get the idea. Well, here’s how this trip is going to work.
Beginning this Monday, I’m driving 3,000 miles from my hometown of Los Angeles to the tobacco farm where Booker T. Washington was enslaved in Roanoke, Va., and I’m going to try to buy black as much as possible. Besides gas, lodging and food, I’m going to seek out things like a good black-owned car wash, or a place to get a refreshing massage. Hell, this trip is so black, I might find a place to get my scalp oiled. I want you to learn about both ordinary and unique black businesses, while also noting where black-owned services don’t exist.
But this trip also has another twist. We’re also going black in time, and that means pulling out The Negro Motorist Green Book.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual travel book produced by Victor Green beginning in 1936 and ending in the late 1960s. (Green changed the name to The Negro Travelers’ Green Book in 1952 to acknowledge the inclusion of some international spots reached by plane or ship.) It was created as a way to help black travelers find safe and welcoming lodging, restaurants and private homes during Jim Crow segregation. Traveling while black during segregation could be a life-or-death proposition, and the guidebook helped mitigate some, but not all, of that risk. On #TheRootTrip, I wanted to see what happened to some of the businesses listed in the guide. And since my mother traveled with her family from Dallas to Los Angeles in 1957, that’s the year I chose.
So whenever I reach a city, I’m going to randomly pick an address from the guide and drive to it. I have no idea what I’ll find, since it’s a bit of a treasure hunt, but hopefully we’ll learn something about who we were yesterday and where we are today.
The fun part of #TheRootTrip is that you can follow along in real time. Every day I’m going to post dispatches from #TheRootTrip to The Root, sharing my experience in each city and town. So check back often. Also, I’m using the hashtag #TheRootTrip on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where I’ll host chats, post pictures and even create Facebook Live videos, including from inside my car. And you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @alpha1906.
And … I’d like to meet you!
I’m traveling through Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; Lordsburg, N.M.; Las Cruces, N.M.; El Paso, Texas; Midland, Texas; Abilene, Texas; Dallas; Shreveport, La.; Monroe, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala.; Atlanta; Greenville, S.C.; Spartanburg, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; and finally Roanoke, Va., with some small towns in between. Keep track of where I am, and where I’ll be, via the #TheRootTrip hashtag, and don’t be shy. I’ll be happy to take a picture with you.
Lastly, if you have a black-owned business that you think I should check out, be sure to list the name of the business and the address in the comments section. Who knows? I might just visit it on #TheRootTrip. So … see y’all bright and early on Monday. It’s gonna be one helluva black trip.