Editor’s Note: Company names have been redacted to prevent unrequited litigation.
Now and then, for the sheer fun of it, I break out my cape, light the pipe, don a plaid cap, pick up the magnifying glass, and do a bit of sleuthing. Thusly motivated, I couldn’t resist a recent garbage sale bargain: the redacted Road Atlas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, 1949 Edition. With it at my fingertips, I have the 411 on the entire pre-Interstate North American transportation grid – perfect for solving the occasional mystery of urban geography!
Like any true map-aholic, I treasure quality time spent with an atlas, but not everyone shares my affections. To the right-brainers amongst us, a book of maps might as well be an unintelligible stream of Yiddish, played backwards.
For them, to mellow the overwhelming dryness of the symbolic gibberish within, redacted prudently wrapped their atlas with a kitschy cover. At first glance, it’s completely innocent: a playful illustration of the lower 48 states, dotted with cartoonish drawings of the regional attractions and activities. However, a closer look at the Southeast exposes some unpleasantries:
The southeastern U.S., as pictured by my atlas. Click the image for a larger version.
Here, we see the sole representations of African Americans: a bikini-clad lady near Miami, one man dancing emphatically to the banjo of another, and in Mississippi and Louisiana, oh dear… Yes, that’s several black people picking cotton and rice. Holy crap!
Did Lou Dobbs ever intern at redacted ?
Probably not, for the cover features some nasty white stereotypes, too. In Tennessee, witness a shotgun-wielding, moonshine-nuzzling loafer, and to his west, the shirtless Missouri gentleman, raising his violin’s bow to menace a donkey, within a convenient stagger of the Great Still of Arkansas! Okay, yeah, I’ll admit it… my great uncles Jethro and Jebediah weren’t exactly role models, but did they have to put them on the cover?
According to my Ebay forensics, the illustration debuted in 1949 and persisted until the 1969 edition, wherein someone finally did something about it, replacing all of the black persons, except bikini lady, with a couple of stately buildings, a factory, and a humanoid of indeterminate origin in turtleneck and cowboy hat:
The 1969 cover revision.
However, the trashy Caucasian images remained until 1984, when a complete cover redesign relegated the entire unfortunate incident to the dollar bin of history.
Now, my atlas serves as a social mile marker of sorts. It might have been in fits and starts, but over the past seventy years, we’ve come a long way, baby, in the right direction.
And that’s all I have to say about that.