Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights
Acclaimed historian Gretchen Sorin reveals how the car—the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility—has always held particular importance for African Americans. Cars helped black families evade some of the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road. She recounts the creation of a parallel, unseen world of black motorists, who relied on travel guides, black-only businesses, and informal communications networks to keep them safe.
As Sorin demonstrates, black travel guides and black-only businesses encouraged a new way of resisting oppression. Black Americans could be confident of finding welcoming establishments as they traveled for vacation or business. At the same time, she shows that the car, despite the freedoms it offered, brought black people up against new challenges, from segregated ambulance services to unwarranted traffic stops, and the racist violence that too often followed.
At the heart of Sorin's story is Victor and Alma Green's famous Green Book, a travel guide begun in 1936, which helped grant black Americans that most basic American rite, the family vacation.
Gretchen Sorin is a distinguished professor and director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program of the State University of New York. She has curated innumerable exhibits, including with the Smithsonian, the Jewish Museum, and the New York State Historical Association.