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Air Travel In The Days Of Segregation  
User currently offlineYflyer From United States of America, joined Feb 2007, 946 posts, RR: 1
Posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 4412 times:

I was just doing a little reading about the Civil Rights Movement in America, and that got me wondering how air travel worked in the bad old days when everything in the South was segregated. Other forms of transportstion had seperate sections for whites and blacks -- trains had seperate cars, busses required black people to sit in the back. How would things have worked for air travel? What would have happened if a black man tried to buy a ticket on Delta in 1950? (Not to pick on Delta, but I associate them more with the South). Would they have seated him in a different section of the plane? Would they just refuse to sell him a ticket? I know air travel was very expensive in those days, so the precentage of the black population who had the money to fly was probably fairly small, but still this issue mush ahve come up on occasion.

7 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineGarnetpalmetto From United States of America, joined Oct 2003, 5327 posts, RR: 53
Reply 1, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4346 times:

Being biracial it also interested me a great bit, and from what I understand airports were often a mishmash of segregation - for instance, Congressman Charles Diggs, a black Congressman from Michigan remarked in a letter to CO that he found it rather odd that at CHA he could eat in the same restaurant as whites, but not use the same restroom facilities. Oftentimes, airports had segregated waiting facilities, water fountains, bathroom facilities, and sometimes eating facilities - there was a bit of a row in the late '40s, for instance over the desegregation of DCA's restaurant.

As for the actual seating arrangement on aircraft, as you could imagine it would be rather odd for passengers to start out in one seating configuration in, say, New York, and then have to rearrange themselves to be in compliance with Jim Crow laws before landing in Atlanta. As best I can tell, there were no real provisions for segregation whilst in flight. I did find this quote from "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" by C. Vann Woodward on the 'Net (http://www.h-net.org/~south/archives/threads/airlines.html)

"The arrival of the age of air transportation appears to have put a strain upon the ingenuity of the Jim Crow lawmakers. Even to the orthodox there was doubtless soumething slightly incongruous about requiring a Jim Crow compartment on a transcontinental plane, or one that did not touch the ground between New York and Miami. No Jim Crow law has been found that applies to passengers while they are in the air. So long as they were upon the ground, however, they were still subject to J.C. jurisdiction."



South Carolina - too small to be its own country, too big to be a mental asylum.
User currently offlineTravellerPlus From New Zealand, joined Nov 2008, 347 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4327 times:

I cannot comment on the situation in the USA, but in South Africa under apartheid SAA (South African Airways) was not segregated. This was not because of any stance by the airline, but because the so few non-white people could aford to fly in their own right, or those that did might have been domestic help for white families. Those that could fly in their own right were of the elites in their community and had the social and economic background to understand the required behaviours.

This is based on reading reports of airline travel in Southern Africa in the 1960's and 1970's, as well as childhood memories. I cannot say if an unwritten segregation occurred, such as the non-whites always being seated down the back. In those days the seating was handled by a person in an airport back-office and the check-in desk used to phone them for the seat number to write on the boarding pass.The system was open to manipulation and prejudices.

This thread might bring up the story of the white lady being seated next to a black man on a BA flight from South Africa to London. The upshot is that the black man is moved to first class. I've heard this story in various forms since the mid 1980's, but the only consistent was that it was a British Airways flight.



What goes around comes around....unless your luggage is not on the carousel...
User currently offlineDocLightning From United States of America, joined Nov 2005, 18704 posts, RR: 58
Reply 3, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4308 times:

Quoting TravellerPlus (Reply 2):
I cannot comment on the situation in the USA, but in South Africa under apartheid SAA (South African Airways) was not segregated. This was not because of any stance by the airline, but because the so few non-white people could aford to fly in their own right, or those that did might have been domestic help for white families.

This is my take on the situation in the U.S., as well. I think that the issue came up so rarely that it can't have caused so many problems. When something happens often enough to become a problem, rules are usually designed to handle it.

[Edited 2009-03-09 14:29:11]

User currently offlineAogdesk From United States of America, joined Jun 2004, 935 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4298 times:

Interesting topic, and I also as a bi-racial guy never really gave it a thought...which is rather odd. Interesting to see the responses. We talk about "back of the bus" often, but planes have somehow escaped the discussion.

User currently offlineEXaauadl From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4236 times:

Didnt DL or maybe was it CO hire a black pilot in like 1950?

User currently offlineTravellerPlus From New Zealand, joined Nov 2008, 347 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4202 times:



Quoting EXaauadl (Reply 5):
Didnt DL or maybe was it CO hire a black pilot in like 1950?

Taken from the Organisation of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP). "By way of the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Marlon Green had succeeded in smashing the "Color Barrier" by becoming the first black hired by a major U.S. Passenger Airline (Continental)."



What goes around comes around....unless your luggage is not on the carousel...
User currently offlineYflyer From United States of America, joined Feb 2007, 946 posts, RR: 1
Reply 7, posted (5 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 4176 times:



Quoting TravellerPlus (Reply 2):
I cannot comment on the situation in the USA, but in South Africa under apartheid SAA (South African Airways) was not segregated. This was not because of any stance by the airline, but because the so few non-white people could aford to fly in their own right, or those that did might have been domestic help for white families. Those that could fly in their own right were of the elites in their community and had the social and economic background to understand the required behaviours.



Quoting DocLightning (Reply 3):
This is my take on the situation in the U.S., as well. I think that the issue came up so rarely that it can't have caused so many problems. When something happens often enough to become a problem, rules are usually designed to handle it.

I thought of that, but on the other hand you do hear stories about black entertainers (like Sammy Davis, Jr, for example) not being able to stay in the same hotels as their peers. People like him presumably did have to money to fly, which is why I thought it was still worth asking.


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