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'Driving While Black' ties mobility restrictions of the past directly to the present

October 13, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Ben Chaney, center, in the car on the way to his brother's funeral, August 1964. Mississippi

"Driving While Black: Space, Race and Mobility in America" is an extremely rich and detailed PBS documentary, exploring the long history of restrictions on Black movement, from slavery through the present.

(CNN)"Driving While Black" has a specific modern meaning.

"Driving While Black: Space, Race and Mobility in America" turns out to be an extremely rich and detailed PBS documentary, exploring the long history of restrictions on Black movement, from slavery through the present.

The range encompassed by "Driving While Black," however, is much broader than that, beginning with the way slaves were carefully monitored, as well as the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed slave owners to seek the return of those who escaped to the North, a significant contributor to the tensions that led to the Civil War. The advent of the automobile brought new possibilities, but also highlighted inequality at virtually every turn.

Directed by historian Gretchen Sorin and filmmaker Ric Burns, "Driving While Black" conveys the fear associated with having to adhere to "invisible rules" of where Blacks could go and stay, a dynamic that has evolved into the era of modern policing.

As historian Christopher West emotionally observes, the true meaning of the term "Driving while Black" is really the same as "Driving while afraid," asking, "If I have to fear the state . . .

am I member of this society?

"Driving While Black" thus becomes an expansive examination of the African-American experience, then and now, with a final portion devoted to policing that not only drives the point home but directly connects the past to the present.

That's a shortcoming that "Driving While Black," for those who take the time to watch it, meticulously works to correct.

"Driving While Black" premieres Oct. 13 at 9 p. m. on PBS.

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