“The Hidden Voices of Route 66”

David Dunaway, Route 66 Conference

David Dunaway‘s keynote speech, “The Hidden Voices of Route 66,” to begin the Miles of Possibility: The Edwardsville Route 66 Conference on Oct. 27 at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Illinois, set a candid tone for much of the weekend’s presentations.

Using audio clips from his “Across the Tracks: A Route 66 Story” audio program and excerpts from his book “A Route 66 Companion,” Dunaway said it was time “to take off the rose-colored glasses” and cast a fresh look at Route 66 as it approaches its 90th birthday next year.

The Mother Road — as John Steinbeck called it in his famous novel “The Grapes of Wrath” — long has been suffused in nostalgia. But the road also brings bittersweet memories to many racial minorities — Japanese Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans — who traveled it or even lived on it.

Most of the audio clips — including by “Route 66” television series co-star Martin Milner and “Route 66: The Mother Road” author Michael Wallis — decried the discrimination they saw.

But one of the audio clips featured longtime Pig Hip Restaurant owner Ernie Edwards of Broadwell, Illinois, who reeled off cringe-worthy, stereotypical thoughts about Mexicans and Gypsies.

Another clip had “Bless Me, Ultima” author Rudolfo Anaya telling along a story about working at a Route 66 gas station in New Mexico and encountering tourists who stopped there. The anecdote proved humorous, but it conveyed the cultural and economic distances between affluent whites and relatively poor native Hispanics — the latter whose families lived in the Land of Enchantment for centuries.

Some of the most anguishing stories Dunaway delivered was about Edmond Threatt, an elderly African-American from Luther, Oklahoma, whose family had given land so Route 66 could be built. Threatt volunteered personal tales of undue harassment by local police and segregated restaurants serving him food from the back door.

(In a bit of irony, Threatt was named after the nearby town of Edmond, Oklahoma, long known as a sundown town.)

The discrimination persisted well beyond the civil-rights era of the 1960s. When Dunaway interviewed Threatt in circa 2000, Threatt said the area black cemetery was full, and the local funeral-home director expressed doubt whether Threatt would be able to be buried in the nearby white cemetery when he died. The fact cemeteries still were racially segregated during the advent of the 21st century proved astonishing to many in the audience.

“It’s time to pose a more honest look at Route 66,” Dunaway said.

(More stories from the Miles of Possibility Conference will be posted in the coming days.)

4 thoughts on ““The Hidden Voices of Route 66”

  1. I feel that much too much emphasis is placed on political correctness in 2015. Let’s stop the complaining and whining about the past problems of those who went before us and celebrate the magic of America and Route 66 itself in the present day. After all, is this site about Route 66 or political history?

    As a white male American of Irish descent (I don’t call myself an Irish-American), I , myself, am offended when I hear someone or some group blaming me or others like me for the bad things that evil people did in the past. It was not we who did those things, so let’s stop the blaming now!

    Hopefully, I’ll see all you other Route 66-Americans out on the Mother Road soon.

    1. I don’t get the impression that any blame or name calling or anything of the sort happened. Knowing Mr. Dunaway and his work and reading Mr. Warnick’s description above this sounds very much like a commentary on factual happenings as they existed from different perspectives, and sounds like a great commentary prior to the 2016 Los Angeles International Route 66 Festival which will concentrate on multiculturalism along the highway.

  2. Why? Why do I need to take off my rose colored glasses? Racism, slavery, discrimination, all manner of criminal behavior…took place EVERYWHERE. No one I know ever supposed that Route 66 was immune to this. I know it. We’ve all been educated about it since the day we were born. You can’t escape it. I don’t need my vacation to constantly remind me of it, too.

    But Route 66 for many is a vacation…it is tourism. When I travel it, it is for FUN! I do not want to wallow in unfortunate happenings from Route 66s past. Are we to erect historic markers every hundred yards for someone who was beaten, killed, robbed or raped at some time in the last 100 years?

    LOTS of bad things happen EVERYWHERE everyday. But in a conference dedicated to tourism, I most certainly do NOT need to take off my rose colored glasses. I wish some towns handed them out. Don’t ignore, deny, or bury the history of any part of the country. But bad behavior of the past does not have to be celebrated or advertised.


    Going back a few days in the news here…this is why I would NEVER…not on a bet, not on a dare, not if you paid me…waste a moment of my precious time stopping to see the Cadillac ranch. It’s a giant symbol and monument to a child molester. I have not made it that far west YET, but when I do, I will happily cruise right on by.


    Looking at the event poster…Live Band! Pub Crawl! Historic Tours! Halloween Parade! Costume Party! I guess even the event organizers forgot to mention “a brief period of mourning for crimes of the past.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.