Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Traveling, Jim Crow To Now: With Actor Stephen Bishop And His Mom

June 15, 2021 Together they share candid talk about 'traveling while black.' Season 1 Episode 20
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Traveling, Jim Crow To Now: With Actor Stephen Bishop And His Mom
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Between Lezlie Bishop and her son, actor Stephen Bishop, we cover the realities of traveling as a person of color around the world, from the Jim Crow era to the George Floyd reckoning.   

-- Lezlie and Lea remember the indignities of Jim Crow in the U.S. south.  Lezlie tells of when she was the only black student on a field trip to Jackson, Mississippi; and of The Great Migration, and the attitude of black people in the north,  and discrimination in Chicago.
-- Stephen expresses what it sometimes feels like as he travels: "The trees are talking to you  .... "The walls are closing in."
-- Lezlie mentions why she worries more when Stephen travels in the U.S. than when he travels abroad, and describes a run-in with police as he waited at the airport.
--We discuss travel destinations that illuminate the black experience, including the Martin Luther King Historic Site in Atlanta; the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in D.C.; the Harriet Tubman byway in Maryland; and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
-- After a discussion of the value of historic sites in relation to teaching history, Lezlie and Stephen discuss their most vivid memories of traveling while black.
Lezlie Bishop attended Ripon College on academic scholarships.  A teacher and public relations professional,  she retired from AT&T in Atlanta in 2000. Her travels include Mexico and Great Britain, as well as many U.S. states.
Stephen Bishop, a former baseball player and baseball scout, is an actor currently starring in the TV series,
'Run the World.' He has traveled throughout the states and world.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; Travelea on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.comPlease follow, rate and review this weekly travel podcast!


Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. places I remember emphasizes the word places, but I like travel theme shows too. In episode 6, I talked with the CEO of the San Diego Zoo wildlife Alliance about endangered wildlife around the world. In Episode 12, I spoke with public relations guru Florence Quinn, about traveling green. And in upcoming episodes, we're talking about resilience in travel in life with a geologist who summited Mount Everest, and with an expedition leader in Antarctica. In this episode, our travel theme is important, relevant, and I know we'll be enlightening, what it's like traveling when you're a person of color. And later, we'll discuss where to go in America to learn more about the American black experience. Our guests are Lezlie Bishop, a fierce advocate and a retired teacher and public relations professional, and actor Stephen Bishop. You've seen him in movies, including Moneyball, and his most recent TV role is in the popular series Run the World. Like his mom, Steven is also an activist. Welcome, Lezlie and Steven,


Lezlie Bishop  01:28

Thank you. 


Stephen Bishop  01:29

Hi,thank you. Thanks for having us.


Lea Lane  01:31

Well, I want to thank you, especially for sharing this important topic with us. I'm watching an extraordinary Netflix show called Underground Railroad. It reminds me that the first black travelers in America were those escaping slavery to go north, staying at safe houses along the way. And 100 years after emancipation, black travelers was still seeking safe houses and places to eat and sleep. Leslie, you and I both grew up under Jim Crow laws in the south, you experienced the inequities. But I grew up in Florida in the 1940s and 50s, and lived in Georgia in the 1960s. And I observed it as a white child, I was confused. I drank from the colored water fountains, thinking they were red or green or blue. I sat in the back of the bus stop fully understanding that black passengers couldn't sit in the front. And I wasn't really aware that restaurants were segregated and that black travelers in many parts of the country couldn't sleep in hotels where white people slept, or even use the bathrooms in rest stops along the roads. A recent Oscar nominated movie One Night in Miami, shows that even boxing champ Mohamed Ali and Cassius Clay and his celebrity black friends could not stay in a hotel in Miami Beach in the 1960s when I was living there. So I want to ask you, Lezlie, as a proud black woman, what was it like for you moving around and traveling during Jim Crow?


Lezlie Bishop  02:54

Well, you know, Lea, I was born and raised in the north, born to a multicultural family. So I wasn't really experienced with the South in terms of water fountains and bathrooms and things like that. So in a lot of ways, I was just as naive as this group of students that I joined in 1964 from Ripon College, which is in Wisconsin. My psychology professor, I was a psych major, and my professor decided that his students needed to understand what was happening. So we did a road trip to Jackson, Mississippi, we were participating in an exchange program into with Tougaloo College. So they sent five of their students to our campus, and we drove down to Jackson. Let's just say I learned a lot in that it wasn't, it didn't help that I was the only black student. Well, first of all, I was the only black female student on the campus at the time. And then so there were no other black people to go with us in this district. So I was one of one and the others were white boys. Actually, I was the only woman too. We were followed by State Police. Once we passed Illinois, from state to state, we were followed constantly. And even when we stopped for bathroom breaks, which was also quite an experience I'll talk about later. So that began the odyssey. And it goes from there. Wow, that was my first real experience with overt racism. I will tell you about real racism after a while.


Lea Lane  04:31

Okay. There was another Oscar nominated movie made a few years ago about something called a green book, which is a guidebook which let people of color know where they could safely eat or relieve themselves or spend the night all around the United States. Did you ever use the green book?


Lezlie Bishop  04:46

I never heard of the green book until this movie came out. To be honest, like I said, I was a northerner we distanced ourselves a lot from everything that was going on in the south. And when I say we, I don't mean me personally. Me and my family. Oh, there were things that we just wouldn't do. Keep in mind too, that the people in the Great Migration who were coming up during that period of time from the south following the railroad lines, most of our immigrants were from Mississippi, a lot of they experienced a lot of discrimination from northern Black people. They didn't we did not want to be mistaken for people who just get, you know, literally got off the boat or got off the train from Mississippi. So there was a lot of that. So the green book never came into my consciousness at all.


Lea Lane  05:40

Well, did you have any frightening or dangerous experiences in your travels up north at all?


Lezlie Bishop  05:45

On the regular but not dangerous, so much as frightening. Give you an example. The custom, which is probably familiar to you, when you went to a prom was to go out to dinner afterward with the with your posse, you know, with your group of friends. And the one thing I was in charge of planning that activity, and I had to call around the city of Chicago to ask if they would serve negros. There was no way you could just walk into a restaurant in the city of Chicago and assume that you were going to be seated. There would never be one word exchanged. In terms of we don't serve black people or negros. There would be a mistake in the reservation, there would be suddenly something came anything but saying we don't serve negros, but that would be the issue. So you learn to learn to plan ahead.


Lea Lane  06:42

Yeah, dog whistles. Whistles Yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, there was a recent piece in USA Today written by a black reporter named Rita Omocha. And she expressed concerns about recently traveling solo across America, she checked in with her family every night to give them Apple maps of all her location, she avoided gas stations in small towns, especially at night, she never drove overnight or walk down dark streets. And she even set a timer to remind herself to move along in case it would get too late. So I think today, we're still having situations obviously, for men and women. But Stephen, since George Floyd's murder, and the Black Lives Matter movement, we become even more aware of the dangers of even jogging or driving for black men. You're a familiar face to many. But what have been your experiences while traveling in the US and abroad,


Stephen Bishop  07:34

I've had kind of different lives as a baseball player, I had had one life where we traveled to a lot of small towns and everywhere from Idaho to Minnesota to up in Canada and around, you know, the Dakotas and places like that, and then as an actor, bigger places like New York City, Atlanta, obviously, here in Los Angeles, my experiences have been pretty good in both regard just the reputations of certain places, or what put anxiety in you as a person of color. You know, as an actor, I don't spend a lot of time out of my, my living arrangement, whether it be a hotel or an apartment, just because I you know, I tend to try to stay focused when I'm on location, and I don't want to, you know, you know, when you're out working 14 hour days, it's difficult to want to go out and do much of anything other than come home and go to sleep. The fact that I stay pretty secluded is you know, a big, big deal when it comes to not having very many experiences with other people, whether they be good or bad. It the there are certain places in the country that you you go as a scout, as a baseball Scout, I traveled a lot in the south, you know, you're driving alone through these these places, and you just have these memories, it's almost like as you're driving through these places that the trees are talking to you and you know, it's like you have these ideas of things that have happened in the past and these recollections of stories that you've been told and they put up they put a fear in you just just like anytime you're driving whether your registration and insurance are perfect or not and policeman gets behind you. There's that anxiety so where as I haven't had too many bad experiences, you know, as a as a professional baseball player they've been they've been really good you know, people like pro baseball players as an actor, the same thing.


Stephen Bishop  09:35

 Especially if you have a little bit of notoriety and face recognition, you know, you avoid a lot of the bad things but it's the feeling that you have inside that's almost like not to be dramatic, but it's almost like a prison. It's like you know, no matter where you go, you you kind of like feel walls kind of walls closing in that you may at some point experience something unplanned. And you know, after hearing stories from my mother and, you know, seeing things happening around the country, those fears are real. And they you know, I just feel fortunate that I haven't had any really bad experiences in that regard.


Lea Lane  10:15

Lezlie, do you feel worried when Stephen travels?


Lezlie Bishop  10:18

I feel worried more when he's in the United States than I do when he's traveling, to be quite honest. Lately, and before we started taping, I joke that I worry if he leaves the house, but that's not a joke. I really worry now that he will be mistaken for some other person that's done something terrible. I mean, he's already had run ins with the police that don't make any sense whatsoever. None. One of them included me when he was trying to pick me up from the airport. I was coming in to visit and I was waiting and waiting and waiting. It turned out he had been stopped by a police officer because he was sitting in his car texting or using his cell phone when I saw this, this is LAX. Yeah, but he was only a few years ago. No one was I can't remember why I was there. If it was for Moneyball, or for the the earlier one, the rundown, which was his first mate, his first actual movie, in any in any event, he had to do his thing. Let the what he does, he may want to tell you himself, but he knows how to deal with the police in order not to get killed. But I just worry all the time that something like that could happen. And you can stop worrying. When every time I turn on CNN or MSNBC, I see another black man has been killed by the police for doing absolutely nothing. So yeah, I worry.


Lea Lane  11:48

Yeah. Now that we've discussed some realities, let's talk about some of the special destinations, which focus on the black experience in America so we can all learn as we travel. Tell us about the Martin Luther King tour in Atlanta. Leslie?


Lezlie Bishop  12:02

As it happens, I could walk there for the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. It's about a quarter mile from where I live, it's a good history of in fact, you walk past his tickets, his birth. Yes, you can see, okay, thank you. You can you're looking at it. Now you can see it's got a cream color with brown trim on it or something like that. So yes, and outside of the National Historic Site is the actual tomb where he, he is in tune, he can't really forget that this was where he became a huge leader of the black community, because there is images everywhere. His name is everywhere. What I'm always shocked about whenever I'm reminded of him, though, is how young he was. He was younger than our boys. He was younger than he he's he was 35 years old when he was assassinated. I just am always floored by it. It's, it's a great reminder, if you're black, of how what you've been through prenatal children, which I see going in on a regular basis with their teachers all the time to visit the site. It is important, I think, because I think our young people, maybe Steven will agree or not, but I think our young people are losing the memory of what we've been through in terms of you know, Steven says that he listened to what I said, because I lived through it. But the next generations are loosing it. 


Lea Lane  13:33

Yes, I would say that's why it's important. We talk about these sites, because these are places people can learn about the experience. And we need to visit them and learn from them. And one of them is the site you're mentioning, it's also the site of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where a king and his father and his grandfather served as ministers. So there's a lot there. It's on 35 acres. It's a large, large place. Now there's the National Civil Rights Museum in in Memphis, Tennessee, I did visit that and that is where of course the Lorraine Motel is the center of it. And that is where King was assassinated. It's quite moving to see that and they also have all sorts of presentations of the history of the civil rights movement from the 17th century, up to the present. They even have the lunch counter where the civil rights activist sat in protests in the 1950s. And it's very memorable. I recommend that to anybody to get a better feeling about the long hard fight for civil rights. And we should mention also the Martin Luther King Memorial in on the National Mall or next to it in Washington, DC. Have you seen that one?


Lezlie Bishop  14:37

No. I really wanted to write before I was planning a trip to Washington right before the pandemic hit to visit a friend and also to do that because it's since the last time I visited her, it wasn't there. So I want to have her take me but no, not yet.


Lea Lane  14:54

Another relatively recent Museum is the National Museum of African American History and Culture which is a Smithsonian Institution museum on the National Mall. And it opened in 2016 with a ceremony led by President Barack Obama. So yes, there there are many places you can study the black experience. I think now when people are traveling more, they're taking road trips, there are places that are wonderful to go to. One is a self guided driving tour of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which is 45 sites, windy 125 miles through Maryland's eastern shore, and 98 miles through Delaware, before it ends in Philadelphia. And you can see all kinds of facets of Tubman life and how her upbringing equipped her to lead 70 people at least out of slavery, including her family and friends, and she became later a spy for the Union fighter for women's rights. And I think she should be on the $20 bill and maybe,


Lezlie Bishop  15:52

Yeah, maybe the maybe the $100 bill. 


Lea Lane  15:55

Yeah, whatever, whatever, she needs to be on a bill. Another thing that I think is we should mention, I have not seen it I don't know you have that's even more recent is a very solemn name. It's called the legacy museum from enslavement to mass incarceration, and the national memorial for peace and justice. And it's in Montgomery, Alabama. And it's located on the site of a former warehouse where black people were enslaved. Interesting. In terms of showing the slave trade and racial terrorism in the Jim Crow South and the world's largest prison system, it is not an easy thing to watch. But the most stunning and sobering section is on a six acre site overlooking Montgomery. It's the national lynching Memorial, a sacred space till now there's been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of these lynchings, which are more than 4400 known African American men, women and children, who were hanged, burned, alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. So this is a extremely important piece, like you were saying, to learn about and to go, there would be something in travels, I think, when you're not sure where you might want to take a road trip, this might be one consideration in terms of history. But do you think of that? Lastly, Steven, what do you think about that, to have a museum of that lynching?


Lezlie Bishop  17:13

I have mixed feelings about a memorial like that. On the one hand, it's important that we understand that it's, it's been happening all this time, and it was a routine in the in the recent past, but it's, you know, I think it may be brushes up against the fine line between memorializing and glorifying. It's just something that goes back, you know, back and forth, in my mind.


Lea Lane  17:42

Well, if I know one thing, people who have gone there who've spoken to me have changed their their whole view of America has sobered up. It's very important for some to go I think many of us who understand it, maybe don't need it as much as others who don't. Absolutely. And any comments on that one?


Stephen Bishop  18:02

Yeah, I'm similar. I mean, I believe it's important. But at the same time, I, we're, quite honestly, my my generation, and I'm sure the generation before me, but definitely the generation after me are tired of seeing ourselves in that type of light. And we're done with slave movies, we're done with seeing ourselves projected in that light on a regular basis, how we were abused, and how we were subjugated and how we were oppressed. And now it's as important as it is to know, like my mom said, I don't I don't need to see an entire museum of that I'd rather see the history taught in all schools and not, you know, have it be a place where somebody has to choose to go there. Yeah. And again, it is a double edged sword because you can't forget the past you don't you know, you have to remember it. It's, it's crazy that it even happened. And that just brings up a whole nother frustration and anger, that is something that we have to deal with, because it happened for so long, and we shouldn't even, we should never even had to deal with it. And now we certainly shouldn't be having to teach our children about what our ancestors went through. But at the same time, there are people like you said that need to know it. And it's not necessarily us. You know what I mean? When I say, I mean, black people, but that's why I think it should be taught in school, because, again, this is an elective place to go and one place in a country of hundreds of millions. And I fear that not everybody who needs it is going to get the information. And you know, it just it just highlights the fact that there are certain places in the country that are continuing to try to whitewash this deplorable history from our collective consciousness. And I think that we just we run the risk of going back down paths that we've already already traversed. And we we've already under fortunately had to overcome if we don't teach young people about it and say, Look, this is a dark, dark cloud over our country. And you know, the only way we can get out from under is to communicate with each other learn these histories so that we don't ever repeat them and continue to educate the the terrible experience out of our our lives as a whole, not just out of our memories, but out of our behaviors and out of our teachings to our kids. I think that's, you know, well, you know, there's too much going on where it's still being taught and the kids aren't getting it at school, that it's not right, what they're being taught.


Lea Lane  20:42

Well said, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember, Can each of you tell us one memory good or bad that most sticks with you in regard to your travels as a person of color? Leslie, want to start?


Lezlie Bishop  20:55

Uh, yeah, I remember. I mean, I mentioned earlier about this trip that we took down to Jackson, Mississippi, after we arrived and we did all of the receiving and schmoozing at the college, my classmates and I decided to take a walk down this main drag in Jackson during this this is so typical of college age, people. But during the trip down a romance develop between one read Spencer, who was a Canadian and read a ginger Canadian at that redheaded, freckle faced, handsome man and myself. So we were walking down the street. And he had his hand on, you know, the small of my back protectively like they used to do I don't know if they still do that. Now. I remember getting in trouble in high school for having my boyfriend do that. But that's another. So he was doing that. And suddenly, it seemed out of nowhere, a police officer appeared. And he was almost apoplectic before we said one word, he was beside himself. What do you think you're doing? We're walking down the street. Now, you know, you know me, Lea, you know that I'm not shy in any way or fearful for that matter. But I understood what was getting ready to happen. And Reid didn't, he did not. He was not, he was clueless. He had no idea of any of this things. So he said, What do you think we're doing? We're walking down the street, officer. Just like? Well, he explained to us with his purple face because he was enraged. We don't do things like that down here. You take your hands off that girl. We don't do that. In fact, you need to go wherever you're going. Wow. In the meantime, in the meantime, while that was going on, another classmate, who had been walking elsewhere, was being thrown into a paddy wagon and taken to jail for walking down the street with a student from Tougaloo. Oh, female. So he was I don't even know what the charge was, but he was actually literally thrown into the back of the paddy wagon. And Professor Alexander had to go bail him out of jail. That was only the beginning. Then we decided to go to visit the White Citizens Council. You remember that? Leave the White Citizens Council. I lied before when I said I'm not afraid because I was terrified. What do you mean we can't go there you got me now on the way down there. We'd already been declined a hotel stay in, of all places, Illinois, because they didn't allow black people in the hotel. And I was shocked. absolutely shocked. And I stayed quiet for like, the next two hours just being sad, because we had to keep driving. There was no place for us to stay. Then we get down there. And this has happened. I you know, it was almost as if I were white myself. But the white Susy. When they looked at me, they said to Professor Alexander are all of your group white, and he said, Oh her she's Hawaiian. Oh my gosh. Because I don't know why I blow for their listeners. I'm light skinned. So there have been times when I've been mistaken for anything other than black. So that worked. But then because I was so scared. I did. I needed to go to the ladies room. And that's when I encountered black women and white ladies. Bathrooms. So I'm so Okay, now I'm passing I'm supposed to be not black. So I can't go into the colored restroom. So I had to go into the one the other one. My these two little ladies almost had heart heart attacks when they came out of the stall and saw me standing there. 


Lea Lane  24:46

I'm glad that's over, at least over Did you know this to save another story? No. Yeah, not a good story. Yeah. What about you Stephen? Have you any memory that sticks with you?


Stephen Bishop  24:58

Um, you know, I was in the Dominican, there's a couple and they're short. I was in the Dominican and I was talking to my cab driver, I noticed that they had, you know, I but I knew before I had ever been because I played baseball with Dominicans, and they have what looked to be black Dominicans, like they look like African American or African people that look like black people. And they have Dominicans that are more fair skin with straighter hair and look more Latino and, and I asked them if they have racism or colorism in their country, because, you know, I come from America, and we deal with discrimination. And we have these biases towards each other that, you know, I wonder Do you guys have here I mean, to do to do the darker skin Dominicans get treated differently, or better or worse than the the lighter skin? Dominicans? And the guy said, No, we're all Dominicans. And I thought that that was a really cool answer to hear. We don't see that we're just all Dominicans. Whether that's true or not, I, you know, I only got to ask that one person, I didn't go do it, you know, a poll around the island. But it was cool for that one guy to say it. And then on the other end of the spectrum, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. And it wasn't a bad experience. But it was an experience of one of those fearful things. I was at a restaurant and having good conversation with some some guys that I you know, had just met at the at the sushi bar, and we were just talking and talking and they invited me to go to some party that was away from where my hotel was maybe 40 minute drive away. And I was like, you know, I'll give you guys a call, you know, we exchanged information. And I'm like, oh, you know what, we'll talk about it. Yeah, it sounds fine. I'll you know, check it out. But late as the night went on, and I the time for me to go started to approach is I started being you know, my gut was like, No, this is not a good idea. You don't know these people, it's 40 minutes away from the hotel, you're in a place where racism was just rampant and vicious, everybody may not have gotten over it yet. You probably shouldn't do this. So I pulled out I did, you know, I ended up not going and it was they could have been nice guys, you know, but but they they also could have been trying to lure me into something that was was bad for my existence. And that's what I felt. I was like, these guys are trying to trick me these guys are trying to pull me into something that's going to get me killed. So and it was all based on fear and anxiety and reputation. You know what I mean? So that was that's an experience that's still kind of sticks with me as as a kind of a negative experience neck not negative so much from the outside stimulus, but negative in the fact that I I had to live through and think through that type of a what if situation, and it was It wasn't fun. And it just it kind of shook my my spirit a little bit in my my outlook on humanity. You know what I mean? It was like, Man, I don't trust people. And that was kind of a shake up. For me. It was like, man, you know, he's supposed to trust people until they give you a reason not to. But there was just a strong, strong feeling in me that was like this is not not in your best interest. And that was disappointing. You know, it was disappointing that the world has shaped me to believe that certain people were out to do me harm.


Lea Lane  28:25

Yes. I hear you. Lezlie, Stephen, I want to thank you both. For sharing your experiences. We need to continue dialogue like this. And we all need to open our hearts and our minds as we travel the world and as we go about our lives. Thanks again. Thank you.


Stephen Bishop  28:43

Thank you. Thanks for having us.


Lea Lane  28:50

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

Jim Crow
Multi-cultural Lezlie
Road trip to Mississippi
Green Book, and Northern perceptions, discrimination
Stephen, traveling around the USA
"Trees are talking to you...."walls closing in."
Lezlie more worried about Stephen when he's in the U.S. then abroad
Problems with police
Destinations to learn about the Black American Experience
Stephen's interpretation of black history
Lezlie's and Stephen's final travel memories