In New England, segregation was not enforced by law, as it was in the Jim Crow South, but racial discrimination was definitely present. A couple might arrive at a hotel having booked a reservation, only to find that no rooms were available. They were turned away because of their race. When black travelers entered an unfamiliar business, they never knew whether they would be welcomed or humiliated.
African Americans were also constrained in their choice of leisure activities. Certain beaches were not open to black people. Blacks were sometimes harassed or attacked, as Gretchen Coleman-Thomas explains in her oral history interview. These forms of prejudice, both subtle and overt, created a psychological burden that was difficult to throw off.
- Gretchen Coleman-Thomas remembers a particularly ugly racial incident at her brother’s restaurant in Oak Bluffs. Even this idyllic summer community was not free from racial violence. (This clip contains brief strong language.)
- Valerie Cunningham talks about places where African Americans were not welcome.
Upscale hotels in Portsmouth and New Castle, New Hampshire, would not accept African Americans guests and did not employ black people on their staff. African Americans who attempted to patronize their restaurants were turned away or, in one particular case, offered a seat in the kitchen.