How Does Race Affect Mobility in the USA?

Posted on October 21, 2020


For as long as I’ve been in charge of my own travel, I’ve traveled to learn history that was hidden from me, to see where historical figures I admire, artists, and writers came from, what kind of communit[ies] they came from, and what role[s] they and their work played in their time, over time–so I can see how my life, communities, and work reflect, are informed by, and respond to theirs. When I was a teacher, all my travel involved synthesizing what I learned in my literature courses, photographing primary sources (people who live in the community, homes, monuments, artworks, landscapes, gravesites…), and incorporating new knowledge into instruction.

I went to Seneca Falls, New York, on a motorcycle, alone, on Independence Day, and toured the Womyn’s Herstory National Park sites and exhibits, ate breakfast with the locals at the drugstore counter, camped in State park, and eagerly learned all I could about our foremothers and the lives they lived there and then. I collected pamphlets and reproductions of media from the time that advocated for equal rights for womyn and the abolition of slavery, a woman’s right to wear pants, to self-determination, to bodily autonomy, to full participation in American government, civic life, education institutions, and the workplace. It was an inspiring journey of discovery for me, and I was excited to share what I learned on that fantastic field trip.

I started reading Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin the other day; it has caused me to reflect on my own mobility, and the ways that travel in my life has been shaped by the white supremacist and misogynist structures that terrorize Black folks. This is a subject that interests me greatly. As with my travel choices, my research and writing has been focused on subjects that I taught; this interest opens the door to the broader world for me, beyond the classroom.

As I often do when I read contemporary nonfiction, I opened Twitter to see if the author of this great book has an account…(Readers today have NO IDEA what it’s like to write an author a letter (!) on paper, put it in a mailbox, and then get a response weeks or months later–or never! We’re so fortunate in 2020 to be able to speak with writers and artists online–sometimes–or at least follow their account and learn what else interests them)…

My search turned up this INCREDIBLE, MUST-WATCH documentary:

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America.

Please set aside time to watch it and reflect. It’s hard-hitting and real, with numerous Black Americans speaking on the terrorism that has plagued their travel, lives, and loved ones for the entirety of our history as a nation and before. You may need to watch it in segments so that you can take breaks to process what you see and hear, and so that you can practice self-care. But DO WATCH it.

After I watched the documentary and decided that it would be the subject of this blog, I searched for the Driving the Green Book podcast, which is mentioned in the film, and I enjoyed the first episode. I look forward to listening to more episodes.

When I traveled to Kansas in 2018, I visited many sites that had connections to the curriculum I taught. I visited Little Sweden, USA, Lindsborg, to see how the Midsummer celebration depicted in August Strindberg’s play, Miss Julie, is carried on by the descendants of Swedish colonists in America. I visited the National Park at Nicodemus, Kansas, because it was rural, all-Black town that sprung up through migration of Black folks after the end of the Civil War, like Eatonville, Florida, which is featured in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I saw a stunning exhibit of handmade quilts

inspired by the novel at the Brown v. Board National Park at the Monroe School. In the gift shop, I found a reproduction of a Green Book, and picked one up to share with students, because Hurston, as a Black woman traveling by car, alone, she would have needed a LOT more information about how to make it safely to her destination than most white people can imagine. I wanted students to take HOLD of history: past and future.

You may have seen a white savior movie version of a Black musician’s travel story that uses the Black travel guide’s title. I didn’t see it, because it ignores the important role that guides like the Green Book–and their creators–played in American history. But you may have. If you did, please watch this film and compare the two.

How does race affect mobility in the USA?

It’s worth looking into, and I hope you will.

Thanks for reading.

lisa eddy is a writer-for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

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