These mid-century American pleasures—taking to the road, exploring the country, enjoying the freedom and the autonomy of driving one’s own car—were almost entirely unavailable to African American motorists. Black drivers carried with them stories of trouble, violence, humiliation, and indignities that occurred regularly on the road. The road was, in fact, an anti-democratic, traumatic space where black travelers were subjected to near-constant anxiety and to innumerable losses, especially the painful loss of dignity and the loss of the most basic citizenship rights. African Americans were largely left out of the car culture that flowered in the mid-twentieth century.
The critical question that this paper asks is: how does the social and cultural history of the automobile change if we examine it through the eyes of black motorists? How did the car culture affect the lives of African American men and women differently? My goal is to explore the interior, psychological, and emotional worlds of African American travelers and the meanings of mobility for African American men and women.
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