Driving and Race (05:02)
Driving a car and having the freedom of mobility is part of the American identity. Historians outline how the act has always been dangerous for black Americans.
Mobility Under Slavery (04:02)
Mobility for black people in America began by being forced into the country; movement and travel was strictly regulated under slavery. Policing in the southern states began as slaver patrols.
Fugitive Slave Act (02:44)
Many slaves escaped by following the Underground Railroad into free states. The 1850 act was passed to recapture slaves, showing northern states they had a role in slavery.
End of Slavery and Reconstruction (03:40)
Thousands of slaves escaped when the war broke out. Many slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation did not have anywhere else to go. Reconstruction gave them a freedom of movement.
Pushback to Reconstruction (04:05)
White Americans fought against everything black Americans gained during Reconstruction. The period had ended by 1877 and positive changes were rolled back. Black labor was vital to rebuilding the south and the sharecropping cycle began.
Slave patrols morphed into the Ku Klux Klan. Jim Crow laws limited where black Americans could be and travel. It created an ideological and physical separation between races.
Great Migration (05:09)
Lynching was common during the Jim Crow era. Fear and economic inequality caused many black people to move north and west. From 1916 to 1970, six million black Americans left the South.
Life in the North (03:54)
Many black Americans moved to Detroit to work in Ford and GM factories; they had the most dangerous jobs. Communities were segregated and discrimination occurred, but life was better than in the South.
Freedom of Car Ownership (02:28)
Car prices began dropping by the late 1920s, making them affordable to black Americans. Cars provided freedom and way to avoid the indignity of traveling under segregation.
Myth of the Open Road (05:17)
For white Americans, the idea of the open road was about vacationing. For black Americans, it was the freedom to visit those who stayed behind during the Great Migration. Cars became a status symbol and a type of democratic personhood.
Segregated Open Road (07:50)
Cars allowed white and black Americans to cross into each other's spaces. For black Americans, travel-craft was knowledge of where to go for food, gas, and lodging. Many black Americans carried everything with them in their cars.
Knowledge of the Road (02:55)
Making the wrong turn or stopping in the wrong place could be deadly for black travels. A word-of-mouth network about places that were safe evolved into travel guides.
"Negro Motorist Green Book" (07:00)
The most popular black travel guide was the book started by Victor Green. It expanded the ability and safety of travel for black Americans.
Black Entrepreneurship (06:12)
The "Green Book" created a record of black businesses and people willing to help travelers in small towns. The entrepreneurial spirit allowed black people to achieve their dreams amid segregation.
Black Innovation (04:06)
Many black Americans traveled to Los Angeles, creating recreational businesses. Throughout the country, black people created new types of businesses for black communities.
Interstate Highway Program (07:16)
The system made it safer for black travelers, to avoid small towns and back roads. Black neighborhoods were frequently destroyed to build new interstates; they had the least amount of power to fight the Interstate Highway Act.
Erasing Black History (04:52)
The interstate highway system isolated black businesses, causing them to fail. Many areas were demolished, and the history and surrounding communities were lost.
Movement and Activism (02:07)
Cars assisted the Civil Rights Movement by allowing activists into more areas. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted because black people used cars and carpooling to combat Jim Crow laws.
Civil Rights Act (04:59)
Many black businesses closed after the act passed because travelers could go to other businesses. The "Green Book" and other travel guides became obsolete.
Racial Profiling (04:14)
Cars allowed black people to leave cities for the suburbs; more than 100,000 left each year from 1960-1980. Cars became the most common way to encounter police and the idea of "driving while black" formed.
Dangers on the Road (07:00)
Police practices and the indifference of bystanders have made being on the road as dangerous for black people as it was in the 1930s. In the present, cellphones have made issues more visible and increased social understanding.
American Racism (04:54)
Racism has created a stereotype of a black person that is non-threatening to white people and has normalized white violence when the stereotypes are broken. Black parents have to teach their children how to interact with police.
Driving in Fear (06:34)
White Americans are beginning to understand the dangers black Americans face from police. Much of driving while black is about the fear of violence.
Credits: Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America (04:40)
Credits: Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America
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