Racial Segregation and the American Airport - Pacific Standard

Racial Segregation and the American Airport

A new book by a German historian looks at the conflicting history of segregation in commercial air travel.
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Jim Crow Terminals: The Desegregation of American Airports.

Jim Crow Terminals: The Desegregation of American Airports.

Jim Crow Terminals: The Desegregation of American Airports
Anke Ortlepp
University of Georgia Press

In 1955, India's ambassador to the United States had a layover in Houston en route to Mexico City. When he and his secretary tried to eat in the airport's restaurant, they were escorted to a small dining room behind the cash register. The manager had assumed they were black. In Jim Crow Terminals, German historian Anke Ortlepp takes the incident as emblematic of the rarely studied phenomenon of segregation in airports. On one hand, after World War II, air travel represented a new cosmopolitanism, enabling passengers to go further and faster in pursuit of their desires. Airplanes were federally regulated, so segregation never took hold within their cabins. Airports, though, still fell under local control, and many tried—until government action stopped them—to keep white and black passengers separate, forcing all Americans to dwell in the past while waiting to board the vehicles of the future.

A version of this story originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.

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