Review: ‘The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,’ starring Rosa Parks, LisaGay Hamilton, Carolyn Williamson Green, Lonnie McCauley, Jeanne Theoharis, Georgette Norman and Keisha Nicole Blain

June 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rosa Parks at the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks”

Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” features a nearly all-African American group (with one white person) of historians, activists, family members and associates discussing the life and legacy of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Culture Clash: Even though she was world-famous, Parks refused to profit from her fame, as she was sometimes disrespected within the civil rights movement because of her gender and her age. 

Culture Audience: “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a comprehensive documentary about an important public figure in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks at the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” follows a conventional documentary format, but it’s still a well-made biography that should be informative for people who know very little about civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is based on author Jeanne Theoharis’ 2013 biography of the same title. Thoharis is one of the people interviewed in the movie. In the documentary, portions of Parks’ letters and memoir are read as narration by actress LisaGay Hamilton. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Unless someone is a Rosa Parks expert, people who watch “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will find out something new about Parks that they didn’t already know. Parks is most famous for an act that is widely credited with sparking the racial civil rights movement in the United States: On December 1, 1955, when she was 42 years old, Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man on a bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and she was arrested for it.

This arrest happened during a shameful time in U.S. history when white supremacist racial segregation was legal. If white people and non-white people were gathered in the same space, such as on a bus, a white person could legally demand to make the non-white person move. During this Jim Crow racial segregation era, anyone who wasn’t white had to sit in designated seats in the back of the bus and could sometimes sit in the middle section of a bus, as long as white people allowed them to sit there. Parks’ act of standing up for herself and refusing to give in to a racist law inspired the U.S. civil rights movement to grow and move forward.

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” tells Parks’ life story in mostly chronological order. However, the movie (which announces a pivotal year in big and bold letters that take up the entire screen) occasionally jumps around the timeline when it goes more in-depth about a certain landmark event in the civil rights movement, to put an emphasis on how this event related to Parks’ life. (Parks died in 2005, at the age of 92.) “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” has the expected mix of archival footage and new interviews that were done exclusively for the documentary.

Parks had a soft-spoken and unassuming way about her that endeared her to a lot of people. However, one of the myths that this documentary aims to dispel is that Parks’ humble image should not be mistaken for Parks being a passive people-pleaser. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” makes it clear that she was all about disrupting anything to do with white supremacist racism. And far from being a pacifist, she believed that people of color needed to physically defend themselves and fight back if necessary.

The movie also explains how Parks had to come to terms with and overcome her own racism. Because of violent bullying that she experienced by white people in her youth, she spent much of her youth fearing and hating white people. It wasn’t until she got involved in the civil rights movement, when she saw how many white allies were willing to fight for the same causes, that Parks changed her views and came to understand that not all white people were “the enemy.”

Parks was born as Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her early views on race relations were influenced by racism she experienced and hearing about the horrible treatment that her biracial maternal grandfather received throughout his life, when he wasn’t completely accepted by white people or black people. Her maternal grandfather Sylvester, who could pass for white, was the son of a white plantation owner named John Edwards and an enslaved African American woman who worked in the plantation owner’s house.

Both of Sylvester’s parents died when he was very young, so he was sent to live with African American relatives. Carolyn Williamson Green, a cousin of Parks, comments in the documentary on Sylvester: “He looked white, but he wasn’t afraid of white people.” Williamson Green adds that because Sylvester was often harassed for being biracial, he passed on to his family a strong sense of not putting up with bad treatment from anyone. He kept a gun with him at all times and taught his family how to defend themselves.

Sylvester married a woman named Rose, and they both helped raise their grandchildren Rosa (the future Rosa Parks) and Sylvester (Rosa’s younger brother, named after his grandfather) when the kids’ parents split up. The elder Sylvester was the father of the children’s mother Leona (a teacher), who was married to a carpenter named James McCauley. By all accounts, Rosa was very protective of her younger brother Sylvester, although their relationship at times became strained later when they were adults.

In an era when African American kids weren’t expected to complete an education past sixth grade, Rosa’s mother Leona insisted that Rosa continue her education at a private school called Ms. White’s, which was an all-girls school for African Americans. The documentary mentions that this school had a tremendous impact on Rosa, because it further taught her not to think of herself as inferior or set limits for herself because of her race. She graduated from high school during a time when most African Americans could not.

Georgette Norman, former director of the Rosa Parks Museum, says that Rosa knew from an early age that the racist Jim Crow laws (which were especially prevalent in the South) could only be changed when the oppressed fought back: “Rosa got the idea [of] ‘I want to change that what makes me have to need to be protected.’ White supremacy was the threat.”

Rosa met her future husband Raymond in 1931. By all accounts, he was the first political activist she ever met. And she wasn’t very attracted to him at first because he was a light-skinned black man who could pass for white. Rosa thought that the man she would marry would have much darker skin.

However, Raymond won over Rosa with his intelligence, compassion and willingness to treat her like an equal. The couple married in 1932 and had no children. After she became world-famous, people in the documentary say that Raymond didn’t mind being overshadowed by Rosa whenever they would go out in public together. It was through Raymond that Rosa got involved with the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the earliest national groups to spur the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa became a secretary for the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter by accident, when the regular secretary didn’t show up for the chapter’s election day, so Rosa was voted into the position instead. The documentary mentions that this secretary position was a catalyst that inspired Rosa to become a more outspoken activist. Along with other members of the NAACP, including NAACP Montgomery chapter chairman E.D. Nixon (one of Rosa’s early civil rights mentors), she helped fight for justice in many cases where African Americans were unjustly treated.

These cases included the Scottsboro Boys case where nine African American teenagers and young men were falsely accused of raping by two white women in 1931 in Scottsboro, Alabama; Recy Taylor, a sharecropper’s wife who was gang raped by white men in 1944 in Abbeville, Alabama; and the brutal murder a Emmett Till, a 15-year-old boy who was viciously tortured, lynched and slaughtered after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Drew, Mississippi. One of the NAACP’s victories was helping in the defense of Joan Little, who was found not guilty of murder in the 1974 death of a white prison guard whom Little said she killed in self-defense when he tried to rape her.

In the case of rape survivor Taylor, whom Rosa had to interview for NAACP evidence testimony, Rosa was personally invested, because Rosa was also a victim of a sex crime. In a letter that Rosa wrote and is read in the documentary, she describes how she was nearly raped by a white man, who only stopped after Rosa told him that he would have to kill her if he was going to rape her. In other words, she warned him that she was prepared to fight to her death if he was going to try to violate her.

As historian Robin D.G. Kelley tells it: “One of the biggest myths in the Black Freedom movement is that non-violence is a default position. That’s not true. It’s the other way around. And Rosa Parks grew up in a movement culture where armed self-defense was simply taken for granted.”

Rev. James Watson, a former Detroit city council member, adds this comment: “Mother Parks supported self-defense. She couldn’t have been a supporter of the Republic of New Afrika had she not been. To her, there was no conflict in supporting Imari Obadele [Republic of New Africa president], Robert F. Williams and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she loved. She saw that as the same line of freedom fighting. She was holistic in her approach to the right of all people to be free.”

Rosa was also heavily involved in the movement of getting more black citizens registered to vote and acting on their right to vote. It wasn’t easy, when voter suppression based on race was not only blatant but also legal. Many people believe that legal voter suppression that targets mostly people of color still exists today. Rosa also led several NAACP Youth Council groups. Doris Crenshaw, Elaine Huffman and Rosalyn O. King—three interviewees in the documentary who were part of these youth groups—have nothing but praise for Rosa.

What many people might not know is that Rosa was not the first person the NAACP considered backing after being arrested for not giving up a bus seat for a white person. As has been reported elsewhere and repeated in the documentary, a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who was a member of a Rosa Parks-led NAACP youth group, was arrested for not sitting at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 5, 1955.

At first, the NAACP seemed to be willing to give major public support in Colvin’s defense. Ultimately, the NAACP declined to put its clout behind Colvin’s case. African American historian Keisha Nicole Blaine explains in the documentary: “At the age of 15, they did not think she would make a good witness, that she would not be reliable. Some people described her as being a bit rebellious and feisty. And Claudette Colvin was a dark-skinned black girl. There was colorism.”

Rosa fit the profile of what the NAACP needed as a symbol for the civil rights movement: She was a middle-aged, married woman who was well-respected in her community and looked non-threatening. It made her arrest look even more like racist bullying. She was already well-informed about peaceful ways to protest and to be an activist. And she was also an insider at the NAACP. Williamson Green adds, “Her quietness was her strength.”

Rosa was arrested during other civil rights protests, but her 1955 arrest for not giving up her bus seat was what catapulted her into the international spotlight. The arrest inspired the widespread bus boycotts in Alabama and other parts of the U.S. where racial segregation was still legal and enforced. The NAACP helped with planning and scheduling carpools that African Americans could take instead of public transportation that had racist segregation.

The boycotts spread to other racially segregated businesses and were instrumental in the progress on legislation that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. These successful boycotts are an example of how oppressors often don’t change their ways until they get hurt financially. Rosa and Raymond eventually settled in the Detroit area in the mid-1960s.

The documentary rightfully points out that even with all of Rosa’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement, Rosa and other women experienced prejudice within the movement. At civil rights protests and rallies in the 1950s and 1960s, women were rarely allowed to give speeches. And if they did get to say anything resembling a speech, their speech time was very limited, while the men were allowed to give long speeches.

Over the years, Rosa received many accolades, awards and honorary university degrees for her civil rights activism. For example, the U.S. Congress named her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” She became a close ally of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who were both murdered at 39 years old. (King died in 1968, while Malcolm X died in 1965.) However, the documentary mentions multiple times that Rosa (whose day jobs were mostly being a housecleaner or a secretary/administrative assistant) never tried to get rich from her fame. She turned down many lucrative offers and gifts.

In fact, Rosa and her husband Raymond sometimes lived in poverty. Theoharis says in the documentary that in 1959, the couple’s tax return reported a combined income of only $700. In addition, Rosa often lived for years in obscurity after becoming a civil rights activist. For example, after a “where are they now” type of article was published about Rosa and reported that she was living in poverty, donations poured in from around the world to help her and Raymond with their financial problems.

Rosa’s niece Rhea McCauley says that Rosa had the type of personality where Rosa wouldn’t complain about personal problems, and she would to be too proud to ask for financial help: “Auntie Rosa never discussed financial hardships. You would not know she was hungry, for instance. You wouldn’t know that she couldn’t pay this bill.”

Raymond was a barber as his main money-making profession. Vonzie Whitlow, who used to be Raymond’s barber apprentice, is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. It’s an example of how the documentary goes a little bit off-topic, but this off-topic subject takes up such a small amount of time that it’s not a major flaw.

As mentioned in the documentary, Rosa didn’t get her first paying full-time job in politics until 1965, when she became a secretary for John Conyers Jr., a U.S. Representative from Michigan. She held the job until 1988. Conyers died in 2019. The documentary has an archival TV news interview of Conyers that was conducted when Rosa and Conyers worked together. In the interview, Conyers says he was in awe of Rosa and looked up to her, even though he was her boss. And it wasn’t until 1992 that she published a memoir: “Rosa Parks: My Story,” which she wrote with Jim Haskins.

But even the great Rosa Parks was not immune to ageism. Years after Rosa and Raymond settled in the Detroit area, civil rights activist Joe Madison worked with Rosa in the NAACP’s Detroit chapter. He tells a story in the documentary about how he and Rosa wanted to be running mates for the chapter’s open leadership positions, but several members thought that Rosa was too old for the job. Madison and Rosa didn’t win in their campaign, but Madison says it was a huge honor for Rosa to be his running mate.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Rosa’s great-nephew Lonnie McCauley; activists Bree Newsome, Dan Aldridge, Ericka Huggins, Barbara Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Dorothy Aldridge and Patrisse Cullors; historians Francis Gourrier and Mary Frances Berry; journalists Herb Boyd and Tiffany Cross; and Ed Vaughn, founder of Vaughn’s Bookstore, an African American-oriented bookstore in Detroit where Rosa and Raymond Parks were frequent customers.

Rosa had a life of triumphs and tragedies. The documentary mentions how cancer claimed the lives of her husband Raymond, her brother Sylvester and her mother Leona—all within a two-year period. Raymond died in August 1977, Sylvester passed away in November 1977, and Leona died in December 1979. Rosa also survived a brutal home invasion assault and robbery in 1994. The attacker was convicted of the crime.

An example of how Rosa had periods of obscurity is shown in the documentary’s opening scene, which features Rosa in a 1980 episode of “To Tell the Truth,” a game show where three people claim to be the same person, and celebrity contestants have to guess which one out of the three is telling the truth about their identity. In this episode, the contestants were entertainers Nipsey Russell, Tiiu Leek, Kitty Carlisle and Gordon Jump. Three women, including the real Rosa Parks, claimed to be Rosa Parks.

Leek and Carlisle incorrectly guessed someone else was Rosa, while Jump made the correct guess. Russell abstained from voting because he says he already knew who Rosa was since they were both involved in the civil rights movement. The fact that half of the contestants didn’t know who Rosa was is an example of how many people didn’t really recognize her.

Unfortunately, they’re not unusual, since there are probably millions of people in America who have never heard of Rosa Parks—or if they’ve heard of her, they’re not quite sure what her claim to fame is. Keep in mind that most people in America can’t even name the politicians who represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However ignorant or knowledgeable people are about the civil rights movement in the U.S., the documentary “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is a worthy history lesson for anyone who wants to learn more about this impassioned activist who made a positive impact on the lives of countless people.

UPDATE: Peacock will premiere “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” on October 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America,’ starring Gretchen Sorin, Allyson Hobbs, Craig Steven Wilder, Christopher West, Fath Ruffins and Eric Avila

December 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ben Chaney (center) and his family in the car on the way to the funeral of his brother James in Meridian, Mississippi, on August 7, 1964, in “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” (Photo by Bill Eppridge/Courtesy of PBS)

“Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America”

Directed by Gretchen Sorin and Ric Burns 

Culture Representation: The documentary “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” features a predominantly African American group (with a few white people and one Latino) of academics, entrepreneurs, historians and authors discussing the racial prejudices and challenges experienced by African Americans who’ve taken various modes of transportation, especially cars, in the United States.

Culture Clash: African Americans are often the targets of bigotry, violence or other acts of hate for driving or traveling.

Culture Audience: “Driving While Black” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-researched historical accounts of racial bigotry in America, but the movie lacks perspectives from young people and in-depth coverage of recent “driving while black” controversies.

A crowd attacking cars driven by African Americans in “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The Life Picture Collection via Getty Images)

There are tragically too many stories, both known and unknown, of people of color being refused service, getting harassed, assaulted or killed because of their race. The documentary “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” gives a mostly somber historical chronology of how race plays a role in the mistreatment of black people who travel by motor vehicle in America. Directed by Gretchen Sorin and Ric Burns, the documentary has a very scholarly tone, since most of the people interviewed for the film are academics.

The movie, which has the usual blend of talking heads and archival footage, can come across as too dry and stodgy for some viewers. No one under the age of 50 is interviewed in the movie. And shutting out that youthful perspective is a strange choice for this documentary, because young people are often the most vulnerable and frequent targets of racism for “driving while black.”

Because a great deal of “Driving While Black” is about what happened before the 21st century, “Driving While Black” might also disappoint people who are expecting more current events to be the primarily focus of the film. The movie is told in chronological order, so it isn’t until the last half-hour of this nearly two-hour film that people will see modern examples of racist incidents caught on video, involving African Americans who were harassed in or near their cars and were sometimes killed. News clips and viral videos are shown of these incidents, but the documentary doesn’t try to investigate or reveal anything new.

In other words, don’t expect to see any groundbreaking insight into some of the most notorious “driving while black” incidents that are widely described as racist because of controversial police actions against Rodney King, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Richard Hubbard III or Jacob Blake. All of these incidents stemmed from these unarmed African Americans being stopped by police while in or near a car. The documentary has brief snippets of video clips from these incidents but doesn’t interview anyone involved.

Even though the title of the movie is called “Driving While Black,” the documentary actually covers all major forms of transportation (except airplanes) and how transportation pertains to racial bigotry. The movie begins with an overview of how Africans were captured and brought to America in ships as slaves in the 1600s. “Think of the trauma and the terror and the violence of that forced mobility,” comments Stanford University historian Allyson Hobbs.

The movie covers how white racists who want to control where and when African Americans could go is a shameful part of American culture, harkening back to the slave days when slave owners would viciously beat or kill slaves for not following orders on where the slaves could or could not go. Controlling and limiting a slave’s movements were obvious ways to keep them in captivity. Massachusetts Institute of Technology historian Craig Steven Wilder comments on this slavery era: “Right away, you have some elements of racial profiling, from the very beginning of the black experience in America.”

And after the Emancipation Proclamation freed U.S. slaves in 1883, many former slaves were left homeless and their mobility was limited by the types of housing that was denied to them by white racists. The Reconstruction Era after the Civil War gave way to a backlash against racial progress, and the Jim Crow era made racial segregation legal in the U.S. until the Civil Rights Act in 1964 outlawed it. Part of the American Dream includes ownership of land, which is a dream that is all too often denied to people because of their race.

Carolyn Finney, author of “Black Faces, White Spaces,” comments: “Land isn’t just about land. It’s about political and economic power, the power to choose. It’s about the freedom to move freely in space.”

The documentary covers the Great Migration during the Jim Crow era, when many African Americans from the South migrated North and West for better opportunities in housing and employment. Kathleen Franz, a historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, comments that lynchings of African Americans in the South fueled a lot of this migration. But even though many U.S. states outside of the South during the Jim Crow era technically didn’t make racial segregation legal, that didn’t mean that racism didn’t exist outside the South. Many African Americans and other people of color still came up against racial barriers all across America during the Great Migration.

It’s stated many times throughout the documentary that for most white people, taking a road trip means a fun-filled vacation. For many African Americans, taking a road trip can be fraught with danger. That’s because it’s part of African American culture to know, usually through first-hand experience, that being black means you will experience what it’s like to be questioned, stopped, harassed or attacked in places where you’re minding your own business and not breaking the law—just because someone might decide that you don’t belong there because of the color of your skin. The movie doesn’t say that it can’t happen to other races in America, but rather that this type of racism is more likely to happen to black people in America.

“Driving While Black” co-director Sorin is one of the commentators in the movie. She says in the beginning of the film: “Mobility is essential to freedom. I think the automobile is emblematic of the importance and the value of mobility in free society. But it also goes beyond mobility and allows us to understand the way that African Americans have moved forward in this country and the way that African Americans have been pushed back.”

Cars are usually a status symbol, so African Americans who drive luxury cars are often held under more scrutiny on the road than white people who drive the same cars. And even fame and money can’t make a black person immune to this racism. Many highly paid black celebrities have gone public about being pulled over by the police for “driving while black” and doing nothing wrong.

African American contributions to the auto industry are included in the film. Columbia University historian Kenneth Jackson notes that black people have often been tasked with doing the most dangerous jobs in auto factories, such as working foundries where steel was forged or lifting engines. And unfortunately, black neighborhoods are often targeted for destruction, as highways and freeways were and still are frequently planned to be built though these neighborhoods, forcing many of the residents to move. Writer/filmmaker Lois Elie comments on how a neighborhood’s racial population and property values are always factors in construction of highways and freeways.

As black people in the Jim Crow era started to have more access to cars, it became important to know which businesses and areas were safe for people of color on road trips. There were several guide books, such as “Smith’s Guide,” “Grayson’s Guide” and the most well-know one of all: “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” which was first published in 1936 by its creator Victor Hugo Green, an enterprising African American entrepreneur who had no previous publishing experience.

The documentary includes an interview with real-estate salesperson Howard Glener, whose father took a chance on Green to print the first editions of the book, which many other white publishers refused to print. “The Negro Motorist Green Book” (which inspired the Oscar-winning 2018 movie “Green Book”) was widely distributed, with Esso gas stations being one of the publication’s main distributors.

As historian Hobbs mentions in the film, road trips for black people during the Jim Crow era had their pros and cons. On the one hand, the road trips gave black people more freedom and mobility. (These road trips were often to look for work or to visit family members.) On the other hand, Hobbs says that road trips gave black people more “exposure to more violence, indignity and humiliation.” Travel guides such as “The Negro Motorist Green Book” certainly helped many road travelers, but it could never cure the cancer of racism.

Not all of “Driving While Black” is about the doom and gloom of racism. One of the great things to come out of these travel guides was the sense of community that developed between businesses that welcomed black customers during the Jim Crow era when other business refused to serve black people. The Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans is mentioned as one of the more well-known establishments that was a haven for black people during the Jim Crow era. And several African Americans began to build their own upscale communities, such as Lincoln Hills, Colorado. Nancelia Jackson, a Lincoln Hills resident, calls it a “country club for black people.”

Dooky Chase’s, an African American-owned restaurant in New Orleans was one of the businesses that was in the travel guides listing safe places where black people could go during road trips. The documentary includes interviews with Dooky Chase’s owner Leah Chase and her daughter Stella Chase Reese (the manager of Dooky Chase’s) who offer their perspective and fond memories of the community of customers that the restaurant has had over the years. However, Chase laments that a lot of that community started to fade away after racial integration, because she says that wealthier black people began to gravitate to businesses owned by white people.

Cars played an important role for black people during the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s, when people were boycotting public transportation (such as buses and trains) that were racially segregated. Many civil rights activists organized carpools in their communities. Wilder comments, “It’s a wonderful way of thinking of how black people deployed the automobile to challenge Jim Crow.”

During the documentary’s last half-hour, there’s some discussion about how smartphones and social media have helped expose the types of racial profiling and racist police brutality that have been committed against black people who are driving or on the road. Fath Ruffins, a curator/historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, compares this media exposure to when the civil rights movement was broadcast on TV in the 1960s: “Something similar is going on today, where people who are not African American have begun to see, ‘Wow, there is really a tremendous difference in what driving around America and being black is than the average white American.'”

But being exposed to these racial differences and wanting to do something about racial injustice are two separate things. Jackson says that there is “widespread indifference or complicity by whites” in police violence against black people who are pulled over in traffic stops. Pasadena City College historian Christopher West gets emotional and tears up when he talks about the fear and sadness that he has for his children and other black children who have to get “the talk” about how to act when they’re being racially profiled. “Driving while black means driving while afraid,” West says with heartache in his voice.

Other academics interviewed in the documentary include Herb Boyd, historian and author of “Black Detroit”; film director /George Manson University Professor Spencer Crew, who is interim director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; Thomas Sugrue, a historian at New York University. And other interviewees include Alvin Hall, creator/host of Driving the Green Book podcast; Walter Edwards, chairman of Harlem Business Alliance; Candacy Taylor, cultural documentarian/author of “Overground Railroad”; Jennifer Reut, historian/founder of Mapping the Green Book Project; Gary Jackson, a Denver County court judge whose great-grandfather co-founded Lincoln Heights; Five Points business owner Mae Stiger; journalist Tamara Banks; and Alison Rose Jefferson, historian/author of “Living the California Dream.”

People who already know a lot of African American history probably won’t discover many new facts that they didn’t already know if they watch “Driving While Black.” However, the documentary offers a lot of intelligent and thoughtful commentary, as well as important archival material (photos, videos and audio recordings) to give a deeper understanding of this history. Some of the archival material includes recordings and interviews with people who lived through the Jim Crow era.

Overall, “Driving While Black” is recommended for anyone who wants a broad historical context for why so much racial injustice is still happening in the United States. “Driving While Black” co-director Sorin wrote the 2020 nonfiction book “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights,” and this documentary can be considered a visual companion to the book. Just like the book, the documentary is a sobering declaration that the history of racism continues to repeat itself.

PBS premiered “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” on October 13, 2020.

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