“There Were Many, Many Tourists and Quite a Few Negroes”: The Making of an African American Tourist Industry during the Cold War

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 11:20 AM
Manchester Ballroom B (Hyatt)
Tiffany Gill , University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
In 1954, just five years after the founding of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD), the premier organization for African Americans in the fashion industry, ten members travelled to Europe at the urging of Madame Henri Bonnet, the wife of the French Ambassador to the.  Bonnet, whose fashion sensibilities earned her the coveted Neiman Marcus Award, met NAFAD’s leaders at their annual meeting in 1950 and was so impressed that she implored their newly elected president, Freddye Henderson, to bring a group of women to to partake in the fashion and international trade shows occurring on the continent.  The based agreed, and took the lead in arranging travel for her group.  She was so impressed with the travel agencies she worked with, as well as the lack of overt racism they encountered abroad, that upon her return she explained to her husband Jacob, “I think more black people would travel if they knew how easy it was.”  Just one year after the NAFAD excursion, the couple sought to capitalize on the African American international travel market by opening the Henderson Travel Agency in,, the first black owned travel agency.    Freddye Henderson entered the travel industry at a key moment.  The unprecedented growth of the black middle class along with a confluence of technological advancements in air travel in the postwar era precipitated the possibility of a black international tourist market.  This paper will examine the ways the Henderson Travel Industry pioneered, marketed, and coordinated tourist excursions to the African continent that both employed and exploited anti-racist, anti-communist, and anti-colonial rhetoric.  I argue that international travel in the Cold War period legitimated and encouraged a global role for the African American professional class and encouraged their efforts for full citizenship rights in the United States.