Tourism by automobile took hold in the United States during the early 1900s. After a long day of traveling, most autocampers created their own accommodations for the night by stopping alongside the road and attaching a canvas tent to the side of the vehicle. As the travel industry boomed, travelers faced ever-growing options for roadside lodging. Soon towable tent and pop-up trailers were mass produced, and no-frills campsites sprang up along major tourist routes like the Dixie Highway. In 1925 approximately 500,000 automobiles from outside the region traveled through the Southeast, carrying an estimated 1.9 million visitors.
As long-distance road vacations became more common, the need for inexpensive, easily accessible overnight accommodations grew. In the era after World War II (1941-45), motels built near main routes lured tourists with the promise of swimming pools, color televisions, and air-conditioned rooms. By the late 1960s many independently owned motels were overcome by the introduction of chains like Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson, which offered more standardized accommodations.
Entrepreneurs in towns along the route also developed offerings to capture tourist dollars. Some took in boarders, while others opened roadside stands selling produce. In 1937 Williamson S. Stuckey Sr. opened the first Stuckey’s roadside convenience store along Georgia Route 23 in Eastman, offering cold drinks, snacks, souvenirs, and pecan candy. By the 1960s more than 350 Stuckey’s locations were in operation across the Southeast.
Until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which guaranteed all Americans access to public accommodations, many motels, campgrounds, and other establishments were segregated, restricted to “whites only.” As a result, African American travelers had very few choices for overnight accommodations in southern states. Published annually from 1936 until 1967, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book served as a guide to assist African Americans on the road. Created by Victor H. Green, a civic leader in Harlem, New York, the book provided lists of gas stations, restaurants, motels, and other businesses in each state that offered services to Black travelers. Eventually published with the aid of the U.S. Travel Bureau, more than 15,000 copies were sold annually.