As a couple, travel is a huge part of our identity. While we were dating, we made it a point to take trips that were kind to our undergraduate and grad school budgets. Now in our fifth year of marriage and still considering ourselves honeymooners, we take trips that will deepen our love and our commitment to our people.
Last summer, we traveled to Maine and experienced the beautiful coastline and the best lobster rolls we’ve ever had. After the challenges of the past year and to celebrate the conclusion of a PhD journey, we decided to reclaim our time and history. We decided to make a pilgrimage down South to so many places we’d heard about but had never seen. For us, it was important to remember that Black history isn’t just the often untold and unappreciated American history, but it is also our story as well. These spaces are our spaces.
From May 26 through June 20, we traveled through the southern states in a rented white Mustang, taking only essential things. Often stopping and staying with family and friends to reconnect, our travel mantra was “it’ll be alright when we get there.” Like our ancestors, who often could only take few essentials and leave in the middle of the night, we trusted that whatever need we had—be it a washer and dryer or a good home-cooked meal—would be met at our next destination.
Many, from our parents to dear friends, were concerned about our southern trek. We heard “be careful” more times than we can count. To be clear, their cause for concern was warranted. We were Black millennials riding in a sports car, often in the middle of the night, in towns where homes still proudly displayed Trump/Pence signs. To ease possible tensions if we were ever stopped, we already had our credentials and travel itinerary ready along with our official statement: “we’re not from here.”
Traveling through the South, we were reminded of our resilience. We literally built this country, and in the face of current opposition, we’re still finding ways to thrive. That was no more evident than when we stopped in Money, Mississippi, and had a chance encounter with Mike Smalls, friend of Mamie Till. Mr. Smalls shared with us how the community continues to rally around each other as it still reckons with such a painful chapter of history. We were reminded of that when we visited the historic Vernon AME Church, the only structure to survive the bombing of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was in these divine moments, the ones we couldn’t have planned, where we really understood the purpose of this trip. We are here to carry the stories with us so that future generations will carry them and pass them along.
Being born and raised in North Carolina, we both know what the South has meant to our people. It was here where our enslaved ancestors first encountered this new land, and it was here where they made the land White people couldn’t cultivate thrive and produce. The spirit of our people is the heartbeat of these states, and reconnecting with that reignited it in us. There’s no telling where our summer travels will take us next year but, wherever we go, we’ll carry the life-changing experience in the month we spent remembering who we are with us.