African Americans traveling through Columbia during the Jim Crow era often faced difficulties that modern travelers can't really imagine. Take a look at some historic photographs that illuminate the issues that black travelers faced during this time.
In 1961, newspaper delivery boys for The State and Columbia Record won a trip to the beach for their high performance. The problem was, The State-Record Company had both black and white news carriers, and Jim Crow laws prevented them from visiting the same beaches or staying in the same hotels. While the white news carriers boarded an air-conditioned chartered bus and headed off to Hilton Head, the black carriers were tightly packed together in a single car, bringing along brown bag lunches to go to Atlantic Beach.
Thankfully in 1961 these Jim Crow laws were nearing the end of their existence. But for decades African-American travelers had to abide by strict segregation laws when traveling. Recent movies like the Green Book highlight this era, and historic photographs from the Local History Digital Collections illuminate how these laws impacted travelers in Columbia.
For many years Columbia was a transportation hub, with train and bus travel connecting it to many other southern capitols and destinations beyond. But local bus depots and train stations all had segregated waiting rooms for the travelers.
Before the modern interstate system was developed U.S. Highway 1 brought travelers by car from the north right through Columbia - often on their way to Florida. Traveler's lodges and motels offered accommodations to white travelers, but black travelers were not welcome. According to the Negro Travelers' Green Book, the Hotel Simbeth on Two Notch Road was an exception. It was owned by Modjeska Simkins and offered black motorists a nice place to rest and relax. There were also hotels, restaurants and boarding houses in the city of Columbia that catered to African-American travelers, such as the Royal Hotel on Harden Street and the Henry-James Hotel on Calhoun Street.
In 1960, students at Allen University and Benedict College, fed-up with these Jim Crow laws, demonstrated against segregated lunch counters and waiting rooms by staging a sit in in the Greyhound Bus depot on Blanding Street. This was followed by several more such protests in the following years.
And in 1961, a group of black and white activists known as the Freedom Riders gained national attention as they traveled together across the south to protest segregated buses and depots, often at great personal risk. A group of photographs show Charles Person, Walter Bergman and B. Elton Cox stopped at the Trailways Bus Station on Sumter Street during a Freedom Ride.
Black families contended with segregation in many ways, and travel brought a host of problems for the black traveler in the South. It was activism that brought an end to this unfair situation. And though we don’t live with this blatant segregation in our society any longer it’s important not to forget that it once existed here. It is definitely something to think about while we enjoy our summer travels.