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Author to discuss impact of the car on African American experience

2 mins read

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, Gretchen Sorin will discuss her book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights at the Historic Penn Center’s Frisell Hall.

Sorin’s book charts the revolutionary impact of the car on the African American experience — and how access to the open road transformed black life in unexpected, far-reaching ways.

The power of Sorin’s book is that it richly chronicles a history of mobility in the United States, and how black families and communities won recognition for having the same rights to interstate travel (and frequently intrastate travel) as their white counterparts. That restriction of movement — a holdover from slavery — lingered long into the 20th century and shaped the way African Americans navigated behind the wheel.

A driver’s license was the first step to escaping local confinement, particularly from the Jim Crow South. And most of all, automobiles were a weapon against segregation, a mighty tool in the ascendant Civil Rights movement (i.e. you couldn’t have a successful bus boycott without black organized carpools).

Sorin is a distinguished professor and the director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program of the State University of New York. She has curated innumerable exhibits, including with the Smithsonian, the Jewish Museum and the New York State Historical Association. She lives in upstate New York.

A PBS documentary based on this book will air in the fall of 2020. This program is made possible thanks to the generous support of the 1772 Foundation.

For more information, call the Penn Center Administration Office at 843-838-8566.

Want to go?

What: Presentation by Professor Gretchen Sorin, author of Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights.

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 30.

Where: Penn Center’s Frissell Hall, 16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island.

Cost: Reception, presentation and book signing are free and open to the public.

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