Several studies continue to show steady growth in the percentage of African Americans who have embraced the power of the passport, and are traveling more frequently internationally. Groups have been formed all across social media platforms where members share their adventures, ask for advice on specific locations, discuss international affairs, coordinate international meetups, and collectively celebrate when a glitch fair becomes available to a desired location. Several initiatives have been created to provide young travelers with passports, and their first travel experience abroad.
But in 1955, our not-so-distant past, African Americans struggled to travel safely across state lines due to segregation, and it was against the law for anyone of color to choose specific seats on public transportation without punishment. In the midst of civil rights leaders coming together in the fight to expand African American’s right to travel locally, Freddye and Jake Henderson were working to create opportunities for African Americans to travel internationally. They formed the Henderson Travel Service in Atlanta, Georgia, which became the first Black-owned, full-service travel agency in the United States. They wanted to expose African Americans to areas beyond their surroundings and connect them to places rich in African culture; places where they would enjoy freedoms they couldn’t enjoy in their hometowns.
In 1957, their first trip was planned to Africa. As no commercial airlines were flying to Africa, they chartered a plane and brought their first group of Americans to Ghana to celebrate the country’s independence, and the inauguration of the first black president in Africa.
Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey, daughter of Freddye and Jake began running the business in 1984. “I grew up in the business,” says Henderson-Bailey. “I remember handwriting tickets with my siblings, and making copies of itineraries on a mimeograph machine,” she continues. Since the creation of the company, many other black-owned travel agencies have been formed, but even with the rise of black travel, more than half of them have had to close their businesses. However, for Henderson Travel, the last 50 years have continued to be filled with tours across several African countries, and other countries around the world.
“I credit our longevity to branding,” says Henderson- Bailey. Henderson Travel has curated experiences for HBCUs, fraternities, sororities, and churches. Henderson-Bailey also credits her decision to diversify the company. By obtaining government contracts and creating a management consulting division, the company was able to remain active and strong when the travel industry was slow. The agency coined the phrase “Post-Convention Tours.” A 21-year partnership with the National Medical Association led to the formation of opportunities for the doctors and their families to travel to other destinations after their meetings. They have also worked with ministers of tourism in Caribbean countries such as Bermuda to strengthen the connection to their African histories. Countries were encouraged to research their history related to African slavery, and to incorporate that history and culture into tourism trails that told the story through African diaspora heritage trail conferences.
The agency has garnered numerous awards for their contribution to African tourism. They have been instrumental in making travel arrangements for those on the forefront of the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King’s trip to Oslo, Norway and Paris to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. They have also been invited to participate in historical moments such as the inaugural flight to China when they opened their country to tourism in 1972.
“My parents believed that if people knew how to get to Africa, more people would go.”
Though Henderson-Bailey has lead several tours and witnessed the evolution of black travel through the strides of her parents, and while she has been at the helm of the company, her most fond memory is of her mother being enstooled as the Queen of African Tourism in Ghana. The event included kings draped in gold, being carried above the shoulders of men on palettes. A memory that captures the impact her family’s vision has had for tourism in Africa and the African diaspora and their legacy in the African and African American communities.
Traveling throughout the African diaspora has remained the focus of Henderson Travel Service. Upcoming 2017 tours include: A Soul Cruise to Cuba, a scenic tour through China, a Black History Heritage Experience through the Guadeloupe Islands, and tours to Malaysia, and Thailand. Tours to African countries include: Senegal, Gambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, and Ethiopia. Henderson-Bailey will be personally leading a tour to Dubai and India.
“My parents believed that if people knew how to get to Africa, more people would go,” says Henderson-Bailey. As she notes, due to innovations in technology, the travel business is a challenge to sustain but she is hopeful that her family’s legacy will continue. Commercial airlines now offer ways to get to Africa and Henderson Travel Services still offers a top-notch experience upon arrival. All of their tours include first class accommodations and itineraries full of entertainment, visits to historical sights, and authentic dining experiences.
For more information: Visit http://hendersontravel.com/ and follow them at @HendersonTravel on Twitter.