People on the Move

American Journeys

The history of this nation has been shaped by the journeys of people who have come to the United States, migrated within its boundaries, and even those who returned to their native lands. Travel changed their lives and influenced communities and culture. Share a few of their stories. See how your family’s experiences compare to those of others.

H. Nelson Jackson—Immigrant, Migrant, Adventurer, Traveler

Nelson Jackson is best known for his pioneering trip across the country by automobile. But that trip was only one of many transportation stories in his life.

Jackson’s great-grandfather, John Jackson, was born in 1771 in Massachusetts but fled to Canada during the War of 1812. Born in Kingston, Canada, in 1872, H. Nelson Jackson traveled to the United States to attend medical school, and decided to stay. In 1899 he married the daughter of a prominent Burlington, Vermont, family.

For more on Nelson Jackson and his journey across the continent, see the Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming section of this exhibition.

Off to Alaska and Mexico

In 1900 Nelson Jackson and his wife Bertha migrated to the frontier lands of Alaska to mine for gold in the Yukon Valley. In 1904 they moved to Santa Eulalia, Mexico, to look for silver. After six years as manager of the Buena Tierra mine, Nelson negotiated its sale, and the Jacksons returned to Burlington, Vermont. They spent the rest of their lives as pillars of their New England community.

Shipping Out for God and Country

Nelson Jackson in uniform

Courtesy of Mary Blanchard

Despite his age, 45, Nelson Jackson joined the army during World War I and was sent to France on the Leviathan, a passenger liner turned transport ship. While serving as a doctor in the Medical Corps, he was severely wounded at the Battle of Argonne (Montfaucon). After returning home, he traveled extensively, founding and promoting the American Legion and championing services for disabled soldiers.

Harry Bridges—Immigrant, Adventurer, Traveler

Harry Bridges was the radical leader of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union. He was also an adventurer and immigrant.

Born in Australia, Harry went to sea at age 17 in search of adventure and to escape from his parents. After three years as a merchant seaman, he entered the United States in 1920, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1945. In 1939 the government attempted to deport Bridges, accusing him of being a communist.

For more on Harry Bridges and longshoremen, see the Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland section of this exhibition.

Harry Bridges onboard a sailing ship

Courtesy of ILWU Archives, Anne Rand Research Library, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, San Francisco

Crossing the Border

When Harry Bridges jumped ship in San Francisco in 1920, all he had to do was pay the eight-dollar head tax to enter the country. Other immigrants didn’t find it so easy. Asians coming at the same time and through the same port were usually detained for a few weeks at Angel Island and subjected to extensive background checks.

Crossing State Lines

Harry and Nikki on their wedding day, December 27, 1958

Courtesy of Don Dondero

In 1958 Harry Bridges and Noriko (Nikki) Sawada flew to Reno, Nevada to get married. But Nevada had laws forbidding whites from marrying Asians, and Nikki, born in Glendale, California, was of Japanese ancestry. Despite Harry’s plea that Noriko “isn't really Japanese—she was born in America,” the judge refused to marry them. They sued the state of Nevada, and three days later they were wed.

A Nation of Immigrants

Timeline of United States Immigration Law with Country of Origin

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Mary Johnson Sprow—Migrant, Commuter

In 1898, at age 12, Mary Johnson, like many young rural southern African American women, was sent by her family to work in Washington, D.C., as a live-in domestic. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, thousands of African Americans migrated north, fleeing poverty and violence for the promise of economic opportunity and greater equality. While Johnson traveled north by train, others made the journey by bus, boat, or automobile.

For more on African American experiences, see the A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., and Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina sections of this exhibition.

Mary Johnson

Courtesy of Abena Lewis Collection

Out of the House

Johnson family house, Catalpha, Virginia

Courtesy of Abena Lewis Collection

Like many other African American women in the rural South, Mary Johnson was “trained up” to domestic work out of necessity. Even as a young child in Catalpha, Virginia, Johnson had worked in white households to help support her large family and to learn the trade of domestic work. According to Johnson, “Your people all trained you to do service work. It was what they all knew you had to learn—period.”

“Then I Was Sent North to Work”

When Mary Johnson went north, her work didn’t change. After arriving in the city, she helped look after her brothers’ children and then became a live-in maid in three different households—including a senator’s house. As part of the household staff, she traveled with the family to their summer house.

Staff at Senator John Spooner’s summer house. Mary Johnson is on far left.

Courtesy of Abena Lewis Collection

Working Out

Mary Sprow in uniform

Courtesy of Abena Lewis Collection

In the 1920s, like many others, Mary Johnson became a day worker and moved into a boardinghouse with other young domestics. Traveling to work by foot, trolley, or bus, day workers enjoyed greater independence than live-in maids. They carried their maid’s uniform, a hated symbol of domination, in a “freedom bag.”

Fred and Maryann Knoche—Commuters, Errand Runners, Vacationers

In 1985, while planning the family vacation, Fred and Maryann Knoche decided to buy a new style of vehicle, a minivan, for the long drive from Shelby Township, Michigan, to Orlando, Florida. The minivan’s roominess would be useful not just on the vacation, but for running errands around town.

For more on the Knoche family and their 1986 minivan, see the I-10: On the Interstate section of this exhibition.

The Knoche family at Walt Disney World

Courtesy of the Knoche family

Commuting to Work

Fred at work

Courtesy of the Knoche family

Living in the outer suburbs of Detroit, Fred Knoche had a 24-mile commute to his locksmith shop in downtown Detroit.

Countless Errands

Whether running to the grocery store or ferrying the kids to sports or after-school activities, Maryann Knoche, like so many other suburban moms, was almost always in motion. Adrienne’s softball team piled into the minivan for the ride home after the game, and Gary’s hockey teammates often stowed their bulky equipment in the family minivan.

Gary’s hockey team

Off to College

College life

Courtesy of the Knoche family

In 1985 Fred and Maryann Knoche packed the family minivan with their daughter Adrienne’s clothes and books and drove her off to school. While the drive to Central Michigan University was only 140 miles, the trip seemed like a monumental journey.