Outdoors For All: Chapter 5

Outdoors For All: Chapter 5


My class Outdoors For All at the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is a 12-day course presented over 4 weeks. I’m presenting each day as a series of chapters like a book.  In Chapter 5 my students are learning about the Green Book. Written by a U.S. Postal Service employee named Victor Hugo Green, this travel guide for African-American motorists was an essential tool for the ability of Black people to safely navigate the highways, small towns and big cities of the United States from the 1930s through the 1960s. After a lengthy discussion yesterday about the rise of segregation from the time after the Civil War and through World War I, we’re now looking at the many different strategies that people of color used to exercise their rights as citizens to freely move about their country.

As a historic milestone I shared the story of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre of 1921. From May 31st through June 1st of that year almost 300 people were killed in a horrific event that included an aerial assault using nitroglycerin bombs lobbed from biplanes.  This prosperous African-American enclave called Greenwood was known as Black Wall Street. Its destruction marks the beginning of direct and targeted assaults on the emerging Black middle class and the rise of the Jim Crow era. This time period would be repeatedly marked by the murders of Black men and women through actions of mob violence. Through fear and intimidation at least two generations of otherwise law-abiding Over the next 45 years African-Americans would endure the progressive erosion of many basic rights as citizens so hard fought for and won after the Civil War.  

My students’ assignment for today is to imagine how the U.S. might have avoided much of the racially motivated violence and systematic oppression that  limited the freedoms of African-Americans for a century after Reconstruction. What legislation should have been enacted? What cultural and social customs should have been adopted to assure liberty and justice for all? Or was the hardship that people of color in this country endured inevitable? Did we learn our lesson? What might we do today to correct the atrocities of the past?

The greatest challenge in teaching this course putting to the test many of the questions that have emerged through my research. As I have tried to unravel the complexities of diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation I’ve come to realize that it involves are more than getting people of color to go outside. Many of the systems that created the Adventure Gap we put in place deliberately. We must be just as deliberate in our efforts to correct them.

What are your thoughts? Post your questions and comments below.

~James Edward Mills