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Driving While Black, A New Film By Gretchen Sorin and Ric Burns

Driving While Black is a documentary that examines the history of African Americans on the road from the 1930s to the 1960s and beyond. The Documentary will be 2 hours and acclaimed historian Dr. Gretchen Sorin and Emmy-winning director Ric Burns have collaborated to create this groundbreaking depiction around race, space, and mobility in America. It’s set to air on PBS on October 13, 2020 at 9:00 p.m. ET.

“Driving while Black,” the writer/ scholar Herb Boyd says in the film, “entails so much more than the simply driving while Black. It’s living while Black. It’s sleeping while Black. It’seating while Black. It’s moving while Black. So, when we start talking about the restrictions placed on Black movement in this country, that’s a long history. That goes all the way back to day one.  And so, you have to get to the root of it.”

The riveting history and personal experiences of African Americans on the road is pivotal to the American lifestyle. The documentary is based on and heavily inspired by Sorin’s recently published study of the way automobile and highways transformed African American life across the 20th century. It brings us from the depths of the Depression to the Height of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

The right to move freely and safely across the American landscape has always been unequally distributed by race. Sorin is a distinguished professor and Director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, who started her research over 20 years ago on this topic.

She assembled records and oral histories of how the automobile created greater mobility for Black Americans while also exposing them to the systematic racism within this country. She was able to do this as an exhibition curator.

As she began her book, Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights, she approached Ric Burns to work with her on a film. She met Burns while serving as a commentator for his 1999 film NEW YORK: A DOCUMENTARY FILM.

“Working with Gretchen on this film has been one of the great joys of my life,” Burns said.  “Nothing is more American than the dream of mobility, which has throughout our history been accompanied by the reality of racism. Sorin’s research has allowed us to assemble a moving, visual story that shows the joy and liberation that accompanied the freedom promised by the automobile and the daily struggle for Black Americans to seek their independence in a country that, to this day, does not fully acknowledge how systemic racism defines much of our history.”

Driving While Black contains Sorin’s own research and a collection of interviews with African Americans sharing their personal stories. Those ranging from historians, authors and journalists.

The film will air on PBS on October 13, 2020 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Ashling Antolin

Ashling Antolin

Ashling graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. She is especially passionate about entertainment & sports journalism. Her favorite band is Panic! At The Disco, her favorite sports teams are the Dodgers and the Rams, & her favorite social media platforms are Twitter and TikTok. She dreams of one day hosting red carpets for E! Fun fact: her name means "dream" in Gaelic.

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