If it weren’t for courageous individuals pushing boundaries and championing human rights, who knows what it would be like for people of color traveling today? Not so long ago, legalized racial segregation created tense and sometimes life-threatening situations for African Americans venturing to certain parts of the United States. And for Blacks who dreamed of having a career in travel, opportunities were sparse or even nonexistent.

In honor of Black History Month, we are spotlighting some of the American heroes who helped eliminate some of these racial barriers in travel. We asked some of our colleagues at American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) to choose two Black pioneers who’ve touched travel that they feel a special connection to for an AtlasTM series.

Today, we hear from Anna M. Johnson, senior manager, strategic client management, and global leader of our Black Engagement Network, a community open to all colleagues that aims to unite Black employees and allies and make sure Amex GBT is a diverse and inclusive workspace.

Victor Hugo Green, author of “The Green Book”

“In honor of Black History Month, I have chosen a few Black travel pioneers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. During these times, there were threats of violence for Black people traveling in America,” said Anna.

Her first selection is Victor Hugo Green, a US postal worker who helped countless Black travelers in the US navigate the segregated regions of the country with the first travel guide for African Americans. “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” aka “The Green Book,” was first published in 1936 during a time when Jim Crow laws created racial segregation and promoted discrimination against African Americans.

The Green Book provided a list of “Black-friendly” hotels, restaurants, and gas stations to help African Americans navigate potentially unsafe parts of the country and avoid trouble in “sundown towns,” all-white communities that banned Blacks after dark, sometimes through intimidation and violence.

“The reason I chose Victor Green as one of my travel pioneers is that I can personally relate to his courageous, diverse, out-of-the-box thinking to remove barriers for African Americans to have equal opportunities and privileges,” said Anna.

“This aligns with our mission within the Black Engagement Network, where we have to take risks and are challenged to step outside the box to impact positive change,” she noted. “Similar to how Victor Green provided Black travelers with a roadmap that improved their cross-country journeys, we promote awareness and sensitivity toward our black and brown employees by equipping them with workplace tools and training needed to enhance their day-to-day interactions.”

Albert and Margaret (Tull) Robinson, proprietors of the first Black-owned hotel in San Diego

The Robinsons were true trailblazers. Albert, a formerly enslaved person from Missouri, and his wife, Margaret, operated the first African American-owned hotel in San Diego, Hotel Robinson. Despite its small size – there were only about a dozen rooms – the hotel was incredibly popular due to the fun atmosphere the Robinsons had created. Famous for its hospitality and cooking, the hotel became a social hub where people of all backgrounds were welcome. It became a place where Blacks could safely lodge without fear of harassment and be treated with the same respect as the whites who patronized the hotel restaurant, which included some of San Diego’s wealthiest, most influential families.

After Albert died, Margaret continued operating Hotel Robinson on her own for several more years before selling it. It was a groundbreaking achievement for a woman – especially a Black woman – to have this leadership position at the time.

“I chose the Robinsons because they are true travel pioneers. Their quest to transform travel was important for social change and justice to occur and to help standardize the industry,” said Anna.

“The obstacles the Robinsons encountered are similar to what we face within society today. However, today we can take diversity, equity, and inclusion awareness and efforts to the next level through increased education as various diversity organizations didn’t exist during the Robinsons’ time.”

“As Dr. Martin Luther King once remarked, ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.’ Victor Hugo Green and the Robinsons are shining examples of the type of people who can effect positive change and bring us closer to justice,” Anna concluded.

Amex GBT has a lot more planned for Black History Month. Check out all that we are doing on our Instagram and LinkedIn social media. And be on the lookout next week for the next in our Atlas series focusing on Black pioneers who have transformed travel.