About the Documentary
Between 1896 and 1965, the automobile and the Interstate Highway System utterly transformed America. They became emblems of the look and feel, rhythm and beat, poetry and song of the American landscape. The world as seen through the windshield of a car created a new kind of vernacular: the road trip, the family vacation, the Sunday drive. No innovation has proved more poetically linked to the romance of individual desire, and none has found a more abiding home in the archive of American art, film, literature and song. This poetry – of promise and danger, partings and arrivals, loneliness and intimacy, of setting out and coming home – was intricately connected to the hopes and dreams of all Americans. But for no group was the siren call of the automobile and the highway – the promise of freedom and mobility, choice and adventure, agency and self-expression – more powerfully felt, more freighted with hope, or more fraught with danger and anxiety – than it was for African Americans.
The documentary film Driving While Black, chronicles the history of African Americans on the road from the 1930's to the 1960's, a crucial and transformative period in American racial, cultural and social history. Drawing on a rich archive of material from the period, along with riveting oral histories and the on-camera insights of scholars, writers, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and ordinary American travelers, the film explores the genre of travel literature aimed at helping black travelers navigate Jim Crow America. At the heart of this unique travel literature and the social issues that made it necessary lies a powerfully revealing narrative of freedom, mobility and race in America – one still relevant and resonant today.
Directed by Ric Burns and produced by Steeplechase Films in association with Dr. Gretchen Sorin and SUNY Oneonta and The Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, Driving While Black will broadcast on national public television and be distributed both online and in DVD home video markets. Stay tuned for details about the broadcast date.
Dr. Gretchen Sorin’s Forthcoming Book
Pre-order Dr. Sorin’s book here and read the book description below.
Gretchen Sorin recovers a forgotten history of black motorists, and recounts their creation of a parallel, unseen world of travel guides, black-only hotels, and informal communications networks—a cross between Yelp and samizdat—that kept black drivers safe. At the heart of this story is Victor and Alma Green’s famous Green Book, begun in 1936, which made possible that most basic American right, the family vacation, and encouraged a new method of resisting oppression. Enlivened by Sorin’s personal history, Driving While Black opens an entirely new view onto the African American experience, and shows why travel was so central to the Civil Rights movement.