n 1955, as Rosa Parks was refusing to
give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Freddye Henderson was
starting the first African-American travel agency, Henderson Travel
One of her first achievements was to convince African-Americans
to join her on a tour of Ghana. She had to charter a flight because
no scheduled service was available.
Freddye and her husband, Jake, went on to establish a highly
successful business. Over the years, she was widely recognized for
her achievements, receiving, among other honors, ASTA's Rosenbluth
Award as Travel Agent of the Year in 1982.
Jake Henderson died a few years ago and Freddye, now in her late
80s, is ailing and no longer operates the agency. But its tradition
continues under her daughter, Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey, who
relocated the firm to Silver Spring, Md.
Africa tours remain the centerpiece of Henderson Travel's
business, but Henderson-Bailey also moves hundreds of
African-Americans each year to what she calls the "African
diaspora," places in the world with an African heritage.
The agency is one of a dwindling number owned by
African-Americans. Within the past 10 years, more than half of the
agencies owned by African-Americans have shut down, according to
Jacquelyn Alton of CWT Almeda Travel in Houston. She says that of
the 200 agencies formerly owned by African-Americans, most were
small and couldn't withstand the loss of airline commissions. Alton
estimates that fewer than 100 have survived but says that many
former owners have stayed in the industry as home-based agents.
As the number of these agencies declines, the African-American
travel market is growing. In its recent study of minority travel,
the Travel Industry Association found that African-American travel
volume was up 4% between 2000 and 2002, twice the growth rate for
travelers overall during that period.
Henderson-Bailey says African-Americans are particularly drawn
to group tours. A good portion of her business comes from churches,
sororities, fraternities, associations and family reunions.
"African-Americans enjoy the social side of travel, and that's a
key reason they enjoy traveling in groups," she says.
She says it's not as difficult to persuade African-Americans to
travel these days compared with the early years, when her mother
had to do a lot of convincing. "We no longer need to educate the
market about the value of travel," she says. "We used to have to
talk people into taking wonderful vacations to distant lands. Now,
more and more, they're interested in cultural and heritage travel
and they're traveling internationally."