Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights Audio CD – CD, March 10, 2020
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About the Author
Janina Edwards, a graduate of New York University's Tisch Schools of the Arts, recorded her first audiobook in 1987. She is an AudioFile Earphones Award winner, as well as a finalist for the Audie Award. In addition to narrating audiobooks, she is a certified yoga teacher, sings kirtan, and plays the violin.
- Publisher : HighBridge Audio; Unabridged edition (March 10, 2020)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1684577195
- ISBN-13 : 978-1684577194
- Item Weight : 2.79 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.1 x 5.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,041,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The narratives about her family and others are rich and help people see how everyday racism hurts. The humiliation of Jim Crow cars, the back of the bus, going in the front door to pay for the bus and then exiting and return via the backdoor. Moving in White space was not safe and it constantly reminded people of their second-class status. Including the reality of being out of some towns by sun-down. These are not just southern stories, but patterns in the north were also shape by de facto segregation. One can understand the unwillingness of family members to share such stories, but Sorin has enough here for us to grasp.
The automobile is a way of escape the painful reminders, but it also has its own problems, since White people resented Black people owning cars. The reality of White supremacy is interesting, since egos had to be so fragile. White people saw Black people buying Buick and Cadillacs as their seeking equality of status with them. White privilege is invisible. Black people bought big cars to cope with Jim Crow. They might have to sleep in the car, because they could not find accommodations along the road. They also had to travel with everything they needed, not just food, but pillows and blankets for sleeping. They needed a solid engine, since they did not want to break down and open themselves to other troubles. They needed a powerful engine to get them to get out of awkward situations.
Sorin presents this reality, but also in the days of housing restrictions and other problems, Black people could buy cars, whereas they might not be able to buy homes. If they got a home, they might not be able to get homeowners insurance. Jim Crow required so much negotiations. Sorin explores the ways that the Black community resisted. Buying a car is a way of opting out of the old system. Yet, people had to also develop an infrastructure for safe traveling. The Green book and other travel guides, as well as the guest houses, hotels, and lodging available along the road. People also needed eating establishments; however, many families packed their meals for the trip. Yet, the development of such establishments is also part of the resistance. It was a critical source of income for many women who cooked meals, and used money for survival and supporting the civil rights movement.
The travel guides, of which the Green Book is the most important, were also evidence of resistance and advocacy for rights. The networking and behind the scenes work to construct such guide books was invisible to many Americans, who take for granted that they can go where they want. Yet, people did research and shared what they learned. Victor Green and other publishers were creative in pushing corporations to recognize Black Americans as consumers. Not only did ESSO pump gas and let Black people use restrooms, they were also pioneering in facilitating franchises for Black gas station owners. ESSO station also distributed the Green Book, often with their own advertisement.
Given the Hollywood film, there is much attention to the Green Book, but Sorin is telling a more complex story. Accommodations for Black people varied, some were excellent, while other were failing, but we did have resorts and lodgings that not only provided middle class Black people with a pleasant way to vacation, but income for those proprietors. Sorin highlights some of these business people, whose work might not be appreciated today. As federal laws, initially Interstate commerce with the buses and railroads, reshape the landscape, people are still at risk on the road, but there is a greater likelihood to travel safe.
Yet, cars can mean accidents—that means in a segregated society there are separate ambulances and hospitals—with Negro hospitals having few beds. People died because of institutionalized racism in medical facilities and transport. Some Black funeral directors had a combination coach, a vehicle that was both an ambulance and a hearse. Still getting to where you could get medical treatment was not assured.
Black enterprises were also the safe havens for people in the civil rights movement. Many stayed in the Gaston Hotel in Birmingham and other motels and lodgings. These owners gave people space for meetings, but also were often the sites where people reunited with families when they were released from jails. In southern communities, such actions put them at risk. The businesses that supported people during an era of Jim Crow were also the first to die, as not only did the Civil Right Act open new employment for Black people, but some of those jobs involved travel and people could do so in major chain motels and hotels, which they could not do in earlier days. Musicians, athletes as well as businessmen and women, were challenged in many ways when it came to traveling before these laws.
Now we still see the dangers of driving while Black, which is evidence of the racism that still plagues the nation and shaped the daily decisions that many people of color make. Gretchen Sorin is part of the team working with Ric Burns on a documentary film. So even if you do not read the book, look for the film.
Driving While Black
I have been reading Motor Trend for nearly 65 years, and Gretchen Sorin’s Driving While Black was an unusual article for this publication. The article has a scholarly essence, and I discovered that Dr. Sorin holds a Ph.D. in History as well as a career as a Museum Consultant.
Today Dr. Sorin is Director & Distinguished Professor at SUNY Oneonta, Cooperstown Graduate Program. My academic career includes being a colleague to many, many brilliant academicians similar to Dr. Sorin
I soon learned that Dr. Sorin’s new book was published February 11, 2020; and I recommend purchase of the hardback issue.
The Motor Trend article prompted me to purchase a new hardback, and the book arrived this morning. This is a scholarly book; however, the author is a master story teller, and the book is a fast read.
Since COVID, I have been reading the biographies of 19th century American Presidents, Civil War History, America’s Women, Mayflower (I am a descendant,) Desk 88, Building of Transcontinental Railroad, Colossus –Hoover Dam, Erie Canal, Arms of Krupp, Germany 1945, et al.
And last night I was viewing the documentary, The Last Dance (Netflix.) It is a bit of a transition to go from the Bulls to Segregation.
I am a contemporary of Dr. Sorin, and I enjoyed her research, antidotal stories, and sociological connections, and story-telling. I really did not know of the prominent role of the 1940’s – 1960’s Buicks and African Americans. The Negro Motorist Green Book was never part of my experience. Of course, I knew of Busing, boycotts and integration, but I did not realize the important of buses to the African American Community.
Because of my father’s work with the B&O, our family enjoyed family passes through out the US. In the 1950’s our family enjoyed railroad trips into the South, and a visit to Dallas, Texas. Our family never experienced the indignities explained by Dr. Sorin.
Our family train trip to Dallas, Texas seemed pleasant enough in 1955 until we detrained in the Dallas Union Station. This was our first face-face experience with Southern segregation.
Water fountains were labeled White and Colored; I had to sample both. It was the same water. However, the Colored Rest Rooms were Not the same as the White Rest Rooms. Dallas was hostile territory for our family, and I did not like the experience.
Our family was from a northern state with 5% black population. For us, slavery, Jim Crowe, segregation were abstract and historical concepts to which we had no relevant experiences.
The gemstone Interstate Highway system of the Eisenhower years, and automobile ownership, and car rental were crucial to the civil rights movement. Today the Schomburg Center has digitized the Green Books.
Dr. Sorin’ Driving While Black merits ready now, and I recommend Driving While Black
for any number of university courses.