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Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America

Black-and-white photograph of African American family (woman, man and two boys) in car in 1960s
Courtesy of H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
1960s side view, outdoors, of smiling African American family: father, mother and two sons sitting in four-door Sedan automobile.

Fri. Feb. 19 at 9pm on WKAR-HD 23.1 & STREAMING at video.wkar.org | Discover how the advent of the automobile brought new mobility and freedom for African Americans but also exposed them to discrimination and deadly violence and how that history resonates today.Chronicling the riveting history and personal experiences—at once liberating and challenging, harrowing and inspiring and deeply revealing and profoundly transforming—of African Americans on the road from the advent of the automobile through the seismic changes of the 1960s and beyond, Driving While Black explores the deep background of a recent phrase rooted in realities that have been an indelible part of the African American experience for hundreds of years, told in large part through the stories of the men, women and children who lived through it.

Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship—and based on and inspired in large part by Gretchen Sorin’s recently published study of the way the automobile and highways transformed African American life across the 20th century (Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights (W.W. Norton, 2020)—the film examines the history of African Americans on the road from the depths of the Depression to the height of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, exploring along the way the deeply embedded dynamics of race, space and mobility in America during one of the most turbulent and transformative periods in American history.

Driving While Black utilizes a rich archive of material from the period—including footage, photographs, advertisements, road signs, maps, letters and legal records—and weaves together oral histories and the on-camera insights of scholars, writers, musicians and ordinary American travelers.

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