Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights

Liveright: Norton. Feb. 2020. 352p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781631495694. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631495700. SOC SCI
The automobile fascinated 20th-century African Americans no less than others who grasped motoring as part of American identity. The automobile transformed African American life, expanding freedom of movement and opportunity and also supplying a notable weapon in the battle against segregation, argues Sorin (Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY). She situates cars in the history of black mobility from the antebellum era through the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 21st century. For much of the time, slavery and segregation restricted black travel. But the automobile provided an enclosed, safe space beyond many of Jim Crow’s indignities. But driving was not without inconvenience, harassment, danger, and even violence for blacks; entrenched racism meant drivers were accosted as they sought lodging or rest stops, Sorin explains. Well into the 21st century, risks, such as police profiling, continue.
VERDICT Sorin’s engaging account of black motoring exposes a rough road in race relations but also a technology’s impact on black freedom. A great resource for people learning about black freedoms—and the fragility of those freedoms

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