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In Conversation: Anke Ortlepp, Jim Crow Terminals

  • Duende @ BloomBars 3222 11th Street Northwest Washington, DC, 20010 United States (map)

Historical accounts of racial discrimination in transportation have focused until now on trains, buses, and streetcars and their respective depots, terminals, stops, and other public accommodations. It is essential to add airplanes and airports to this narrative, says Anke Ortlepp. Air travel stands at the center of the twentieth century’s transportation revolution, and airports embodied the rapidly mobilizing, increasingly prosperous, and cosmopolitan character of the postwar United States. When segregationists inscribed local definitions of whiteness and blackness onto sites of interstate and even international transit, they not only brought the incongruities of racial separation into sharp relief but also obligated the federal government to intervene.

Ortlepp looks at African American passengers; civil rights organizations; the federal government and judiciary; and airport planners, architects, and managers as actors in shaping aviation’s legal, cultural, and built environments. She relates the struggles of black travelers—to enjoy the same freedoms on the airport grounds that they enjoyed in the aircraft cabin—in the context of larger shifts in the postwar social, economic, and political order. Jim Crow terminals, Ortlepp shows us, were both spatial expressions of segregation and sites of confrontation over the re-negotiation of racial identities. Hence, this new study situates itself in the scholarly debate over the multifaceted entanglements of “race” and “space.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anke Ortlepp is Professor of British and North American History at the University of Kassel. She received her PhD from the University of Cologne in 2000 and completed her Postdoc degree (Habilitation) at the University of Munich in 2009. From 2005 to 2010, she was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington, D.C., where she also served as Deputy Director (2007) and Acting Director (2007-2008). Leaving the GHI, she joined the University of Munich as Professor of American History in 2010. In 2013, she moved on to the University of Kassel.