Soul of America Founder Thomas Dorsey

Photo credit: Thomas Dorsey

When Thomas Dorsey saw travel guides and publications omitted experiences that resonated with Black travelers, he created his own travel guides and launched the Soul of America mission 30 years ago.

While working in marketing in the 80s, his personal travels took him to cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, Houston and Chicago.  An avid reader of travel guides, like many, Thomas used them to help him navigate some of the top U.S. cities.  However, he soon recognized a common theme among these popular books.

“I was asking myself, why can’t I find Black culture like I want to see it? Why isn’t it easy? And I was also a person who would buy Frommers and Fodors and this one other guide called Access Guides for travel guides and they just wouldn’t list Black heritage, Black culture, Black restaurants, just wouldn’t do it, with two exceptions, three. They would list the Apollo in New York, they would list Howard University in Washington, D.C. and they would list where Dr. King was buried in Atlanta and a little sidebar, ‘Oh by the way, there are some Black colleges there too.’”

Needless to say, Thomas was not satisfied and felt they needed to do more.  What really pushed him over the edge and into publishing was when Access Guides published a guide for Chicago and inside told readers not to go to the Southside of Chicago. 

“I was furious and I said I am going to write the editor and I actually typed up the letter. And I got to the last point where I was getting ready to get the stamps and envelope and I said, ‘You know what, we shouldn’t have to beg people to do what we need to do for ourselves.”

He then filed it away, knowing the next move would be to create something of his own, beginning with the sites where he knew Black culture thrived, including Chicago.

Soul of America Leading Travel Through a Culture Lens

Thomas first published under the brand Go Where – Travel, which was later changed to Soul of America in 1998.

As he prepares to celebrate 30 years since the first guide was published, Thomas built a following of Black travelers who trust the voice and perspective that Sou of America brings to travel.

His travels for research and feedback from readers have continued to guide him in which books to produce and why.

“We have always loved beaches. So it was natural for us to want to travel more to the Caribbean.” Thomas says Europe, especially Paris, is another destination that resonates with travelers.

Both culture and history are captured in the more than 150 travel guides produced by Soul of America over the years.

From updating current guides to adding new destinations, Thomas says the work will continue, especially as travelers continue to be more adventurous and savvier about where they want to go and where they spend their money.

For him, it is about celebrating the journey and still being able to guide Black travelers to experiences that speak to them culturally.

Listen to the entire conversation after checking out this sneak peek below.

To read the guides online, visit Soul of America online and join the community on Facebook and Instagram.

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