The Black Pastor Whose “Turban Trick” Exposed American Racism

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tags: racism, segregation, African American history, religious history

Paul A. Kramer teaches modern U. S. history at Vanderbilt University, and writes for the New Yorker, Slate and other publications on America’s place in the world. 

Ashanti Fortson is an illustrator and cartoonist with a deep love for kind stories and fantastical settings.

It was only later that Rev. Jesse Wayman Routté learned that a black man could dodge white harassment by wearing a turban. In September 1943, Routté, the 37-year-old pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Queens, New York, boarded the train to Mobile, Alabama, to officiate at his brother Louis’s wedding. In Mobile, Routté, a gifted singer and lecturer, sang spirituals before a “mixed audience,” according to the New York Amsterdam News, and received “many congratulations from both races.” He was also greeted with segregationist hospitality. “I was Jim Crowed here, Jim Crowed there, Jim Crowed all around the place,” he told a reporter. “And I didn’t like being Jim Crowed.”

On his way south, Routté had ridden in a luxurious Pullman railroad car and encountered “little if any segregation.” But on his return trip, he chose to ride coach. He was consigned to a dirty, airless car directly behind the steam engine. Dining car porters separated him from the other passengers with a partition. He fasted for two days in protest and contemplation. Back home, he told reporters that such outrages called for a “great deal of prayer” and “an equal amount of planning.”

Routté returned to Mobile at his brother’s invitation in November 1947, and this time, he planned. Sisters in Mobile’s Lutheran missionary societies had told him that when they expected a “visiting Negro of rank,” they suggested the person travel in a turban and robes.

Read entire article at Narratively.com

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