It’s been a minute since I’ve written a newsletter, and I’m excited to tell you why. There’s really no better day than Juneteenth to share.
For the past few months I’ve been working with a talented team of creatives to do the unthinkable in 2022: starting (rather than shuttering) a publication.
The idea predates my months of involvement. It originated with a mentor and friend of mine, Ron Stodghill.
Before he was my professor and editor at the University of Missouri, he was a staff writer at the New York Times, where he still contributes travel stories from locations near and far. This new publication draws from those experiences its DNA; DETOUR is a digital publication that seeks to tell the best stories in Black travel. It will look at stories of place, of history, of culture, of adventure, of challenges and hidden wonders.
A partnership with McClatchy made the launch of DETOUR possible, and it’s been live for two weeks now. You can find our work at our website, as well as on sites of our newspaper partners, The Charlotte Observer and The Miami Herald.
It’s been an unbelievable privilege to watch someone’s dream come to life, and even more humbling to be a small part of it. Thus far, we’ve published some pieces I’m really proud of, and I fully expect that trend to continue. Please check in with what we’re doing and if you read something you like, share with your friends and families.
Ten Worth Your Time
One of our first packages was centered on the unseemly realities that have long surrounded travel for African Americans. In many towns across the country, there was blatant discrimination that deterred Black people from staying in certain areas. Towns made explicit their policies: “Leave by sundown or else.” They became known as sundown towns. Violence and the threat of violence pushes many families out of towns, counties, and states; the practice became known as whitewashing. A beautifully animated documentary tells the story of those practices by making real the experiences of a particular family; the only thing sadder than the details of the story is the realization that it stands in for so many similar stories experienced by numerous families.
The very first piece DETOUR published upon its launch was from James Beard Award-winner Cynthia Greenlee, as she reckoned with her family’s history and connection to the Asheville, North Carolina area, which runs deep, but is never assumed by those she encounters there. People always suspect she’s a visitor, a tourist, and the reality of why is simple: There simply aren’t that many Black people in the area. But to assume that all Black people in Asheville must be from somewhere else is to fundamentally misunderstand and overlook a great deal of Appalachian history.
This short audio piece shows of the various creative talents on DETOUR’s team. Gary Brown is a multi-Grammy-nominated producer with enough impressive collaborations under his belt to make your head spin. He took a written piece about a young Black man named Duck Majors, who lived in Springfield, Missouri, around the turn of the 20th century, and a story that’s fully lived in, fully alive, and simply a great listen.
The unifying theme of all DETOUR stories is a sense of place. It doesn't have to be a diary-like dispatch from a current trip. One of the early stories published was written about how Black music had influenced popular culture (and so much more) in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, starting in the 1970s with a cultural exchange tour by B.B. King to 1990s rap music to Snoop Dogg headlining a music festival in 2015.
Not all trips and travel experiences are ones we’re proud of, and Ron had a story like that. He’s an avid golfer, but not all golf trips are created equally. He once found himself playing a course that was built on the grounds of Angola prison in Louisiana. The course was maintained by the inmates. Ron teed off with a white warden whose job saw him locking up and overseeing thousands of Black men, and as a Black man, Ron had more than a little guilt over his willingness to attend at all.
Travel and place are just subsets of something larger: culture. And a vital part of Black women’s culture is their hair, but in some places, recent forms of racial discrimination have targeted various hairstyles. Writer Kim Green reads an audio version of an essay she wrote on the beauty and difficulties of Black hair.
Another piece from the sundown town package tells the story of violence in Ste. Genevieve, Missourithat resulted in multiple people being killed, an angry mob, a kidnapping, National Guard troops with machine guns, and a mass exodus of Black people from the town.
After the story of Rochelle Fritsch and her family’s secret was told in the animated documentary above, the DETOUR podcast took the opportunity to go deeper into the historical account as well as further explored the current-day ramifications of that history.
Read the first-ever Editor’s Letter from DETOUR’s editor in chief, Dawn Booker.
Learn a little bit more about what inspired Ron to create DETOUR ini the first place in his Publisher’s Letter.
Here’s a collection of what I’ve been watching in the past few weeks (compared to my usual entries, you can tell how much time all of this work for DETOUR is taking up).
Remember: The legend for my list was stolen from Mr. Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, and Italics is a book. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.
6/1: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)
6/8: Barry, S3 (HBO Max)
6/13: Barry, S3 (HBO Max)
6/15: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)
6/16: The Offer (Paramount+)
6/19: The Offer (Paramount+); Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Spectrum)
If you liked what you read, please sign up, follow me on Twitter (@CaryLiljohn06) and then forward to friends to help spread the word.