Race and Racism


Part Four of Travels with Charley chronicles Steinbeck's journey through the Deep South. The most memorable and impactful part of the book takes place in New Orleans, where Steinbeck witnessed history as he watched the first African American student attand William Frantz Elementary School. 

This collection guides students through the issues of race and racism found in Travels with Charley.

Ruby Bridges and Desegregation

On November 14, 1960 six year old Ruby Bridges was the first African American child to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was escorted by U.S. Marshalls for her protection and to enforce the integration of the school. Ruby walked a gauntlet of angry white parents, teenagers, students, and community members. 

Hearing about this, John Steinbeck decided to come and witness it for himself. He did not know the name of the brave little girl he watched walk up the steps of the school, but he wrote his impressions of her and described in vivid detail what he witnessed that day. This scene, and the few that follow, is one of the most powerful in Travels with Charley. 

Character Reactions - Picking up Riders

After witnessing the vitriol of the Cheerleaders and having his conversation with Monsieur Ci Git, Steinbeck once again hit the road. Along the way he picked up two passengers on two separate occasions. One, an older African American man; the other, a thirty-something white man. In this activity, students will create an internal monologue for the characters in the scene to examine attitudes of race from different perspectives.

Chief Joseph and American Pioneers

In Part Three of Travels with Charley, Steinbeck passes through Montana and the Dakotas, areas he called “memory-marked as Injun country” (122). He goes on to describe a very non-traditional view of Native Americans when he relates a story about Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians. Through the use of primary sources, students can examine the old pioneer story from the perspectives of peoples who have been traditionally left out.