Storytelling school

Centuries of storytelling inspire the black travel movement


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In the 1850s, David Dorr accompanied his white owner on a tour of the major cities of the world. By day, Dorr played the Louisiana businessman’s perfect servant, but at night, Dorr would go out to wander the streets of London, Venice, and Jerusalem. The experience was transformative; back in the United States, Dorr not only escaped slavery and moved to Ohio, but continued to self-publish colored man around the world (1858), a richly reported travelogue which bravely omits all trace of its former owner from the account.

These days, I tend to think of David Dorr as the origin story for DETOUR, a new digital travel magazine launched in partnership with McClatchy and the Missouri School of Journalism. Like Dorr almost two centuries ago, DETOUR celebrates the importance of seeing the world for oneself, of moving, as the late Toni Morrison might have said, beyond the “white gaze”. An old African adage says, “Until lions have their own historians, hunting tales will always glorify the hunter. For centuries, black people have influenced global culture – in food, fashion, music, politics and sports. Yet travel media is still largely stuck in the past, a clubby white industry aimed at affluent white audiences and masked by messaging that promotes European colonialism.

DETOUR has grown in just a few years from a loose concept to, starting today, a robust storytelling platform that will connect black travelers through the power of information and storytelling. I remember the day DETOUR was conceived. I was standing in the marble hall of a garish mansion on a plantation in Louisiana. on a mission for the New York Times travel section. The mansion was a stop along the state’s recently launched African-American Heritage Trail, and the plantation had been purchased and restored by a wealthy white developer, who that day was our guide. Listening to offhand reflections on slavery and pre-war life was hard enough. When he started pontificating about the lingering effect of slavery on black parenthood — well, I just walked away.

Black people want a messenger whose experiences reflect at least some of their truth, and more than ever, we’re willing to go the distance to find it.

Rochelle Fritsch, the subject of DETOUR’s animated documentary, does just that. When the Milwaukee native yearns to learn more about her family’s history, she finds herself on a bloody trail in Missouri. With scores and original music by Gary V. Brown of DETOUR, four-time Grammy-nominated producer. “The Whitewashing of Missouri” is a harrowing, beautifully illustrated story of a black woman’s quest to uncover an old family secret, which involves a false imprisonment, lynching and purge of black residents of a small town in the Missouri in 1904.

The short film, which captures part of the tragic story of the American heart through the eyes of a black family, is the epitome of DETOUR — and precisely the kind of story we plan to keep telling.

We hope you enjoy it and pass it on!

Until next time, travel safe

Ron Stodghill