The Black Pastor Whose “Turban Trick” Exposed American Racism
Rev. Routté bluffed his way into first-class treatment in the Jim Crow-era south — unmasking the ridiculous hypocrisy of segregation.
Illustration by Ashanti Forston
It was only later that Rev. Jesse Wayman Routté learned that a black man could dodge white harassment by wearing a turban. In September 1943, Routté, the 37-year-old pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Queens, New York, boarded the train to Mobile, Alabama, to officiate at his brother Louis’s wedding. In Mobile, Routté, a gifted singer and lecturer, sang spirituals before a “mixed audience,” according to the New York Amsterdam News, and received “many congratulations from both races.” He was also greeted with segregationist hospitality. “I was Jim Crowed here, Jim Crowed there, Jim Crowed all around the place,” he told a reporter. “And I didn’t like being Jim Crowed.”
On his way south, Routté had ridden in a luxurious Pullman railroad car and encountered “little if any segregation.” But on his return trip, he chose to ride coach. He was consigned to a dirty, airless car directly behind the steam engine. Dining car porters separated him from the othe…
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