This page features a small selection of UConn library and external resources to support learning and research pertaining to Black Travel & Transportation. This list is meant to be exploratory and is not a comprehensive representation or list of the library's holdings.
For additional assistance, please contact Stephanie Birch, Research Services Librarian for Africana Studies at email@example.com.
By foot. By boat, train, car, bike, or by airplane. By force, through sheer determination, or for leisure. Regardless of the method, mode or circumstance, Black people have always been on the move. Black histories of travel and experiences with transportation are complicated -- both are interwoven with trauma and violence but also liberation.
The Green Book (pictured left) is an example of Black people's complex relationship with travel and transportation. This serial guidebook, published by Victor H. Green & Co., informed motorists and travelers of safe places to seek assistance while on the road -- including hotels, garages, fuel stations, restaurants, beauty parlors, and barbershops.
Photo: The Negro Motorist Green-Book, 1940. Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Link
"1794-1799: the fugitive slave act" by Deirdre Cooper Owens in Four hundred souls: a community history of African America, 1619-2019 by eds. Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (2021). eBook. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the U.S. government to help enslavers locate those who escaped slavery. It also denied enslaved people who managed to escape the right to testify or have a trial by jury.
Amistad rebellion: an Atlantic odyssey of slavery and freedom by Marcus Rediker (2012). Print and eBook. An historical account of the Amistad uprising aboard the Spanish ship, La Amistad, en route to Cuba. In 1839, African captives revolted on the high seas, taking control of the vessel. They were eventually arrested in New London, CT, and tried for murder in the landmark Supreme Court case, United States vs. Amistad. The Court ruled in favor of the African men and 33 survivors returned to their homeland.
Captives and Voyagers: Black Migrants across the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World by Judith Kelleher Schafer (2009). Print and eBook. Historical analysis of British migration to the New World, tracing the departures, voyages, and landings of enslaved and free Black peoples who left their homelands in the 18th century for British colonies.
Colored travelers: mobility and the fight for citizenship before the Civil War by Elizabeth Stordeur (2016). eBook. Prior to Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s & 60s, Black Americans encountered and resisted obstructions to their mobility. 19th century Black travelers were activists -- relying on steamships, stagecoaches, and railways to expand networks and fight slavery.
Fugitive nation: Slavery, travel and technologies of American identity, 1830-1860 (dissertation) by Lisa C. Brawley (1995). Online. A study of tourism and slavery in the antebellum U.S., describing railroad travel as part of the "national machine." Informed by fugitive slave narratives, which the author regards as a form of Black travel writing from the time period.
Patroons and Periaguas: Enslaved Watermen and Watercraft of the Lowcountry by multiple authors (2014). Exploration of creole maritime history and culture of Native, African (both enslaved and free), and European peoples in the South Carolina coastal region during the colonial period. Enslaved patroons (boat captains) and their crews (periaguas) transported crops along waterways, while also used their skills and access to boats to rebel by passing information and trading illicit goods.
Journal & News Articles
Afro-Colombian women braid messages of freedom in hairstyles by DaNeen Brown. Washington Post, July 8, 2011. Describes the practice of hair braiding among enslaved populations as a strategy for liberation. Braiding patterns provided a map to freedom, signaling important information like roadways and rivers.
Reducing Free Men to Slavery: Black Kidnapping, the “Slave Power,” and the Politics of Abolition in Antebellum Illinois, 1830–1860 by M. Scott Heerman. Journal of the early Republic, 2018-06-01, Vol.38 (2), p.261-291. Addresses the history of kidnapping of free African Americans in antebellum Illinois. The local press published kidnapping cases, local groups led search and rescue parties, and officials worked to free victims from captivity by contesting the kidnapping and forced transport of Black Illinoisans to slaveholding territories.
They Can Run the Boat, But Not Ride: Slavery, Segregation and Ferries by Edward Salo (2009). African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 1. In South Carolina, African Americans were once ferry operators -- first during the period of enslavement and then during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. While they were permitted on board as workers, they were not allowed as passengers, except in segregated areas.
Film & Video
12 Years a Slave (2013) on DVD at UConn Library and via Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max. A major motion picture based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a New York-born free man, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery to a New Orleans plantation owner. He was forcibly transported to Louisiana, where he endured 12 years of enslavement before his rescue and liberation.
Amistad (1999) on DVD at UConn Library and streaming via Amazon Prime. A major motion picture based on the Amistad rebellion, in which African captives take control of a Spanish vessel en route to Havana, Cuba. It chronicles their uprisings, subsequent incarceration in Connecticut, and U.S. Supreme Court case.
Harriet (2019) on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV. A major motion picture based on the life of abolitionist freedom-fighter, Harriet Tubman, who traveled covertly across the US to liberate Black people held in bondage.
Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from 1986 that codified racial segregation as legal under the Constitution and mandated separate-but-equal facilities. The case provided legal justification for segregation laws and policies, affecting Black people's daily experiences in public life -- from transportation to public facilities (like schools, theatres, hotels, etc.).
Right to ride: streetcar boycotts and African American citizenship in the era of Plessy v. Ferguson by Blair Murphy Kelley (2010). eBook. Traces the organizational efforts of African Americans in New Orleans, Richmond, and Savannah to resist early Jim Crow-era laws segregating trains and streetcars.
Separate: the story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's journey from slavery to segregation by Steve Luxenberg (2019). Print. Historical analysis of the Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson to uphold segregation under the constitution and addresses how the case still impacts contemporary America. The author draws from letters, diaries, and archival collections.
We as freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson by Keith Weldon Medley (2003). Print. Details the events leading to and including the Supreme Court case that legalized segregation, beginning when Homer Plessy decided to sit in a railway car designated for whites only.
U.S. Reports: Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). Library of Congress. Court opinion on the Plessy v. Ferguson case.
Driving while Black: African American travel and the road to civil rights by Gretchen Sullivan Sorin (2020). Print. Explores how the car became a symbol of independence and possibility for Black Americans, allowing families to evade the dangers of a racist society and (to some degree) enjoy the freedom of the open road. The author chronicles the world of Black motorists, who navigated the American roadways with the assistance of guidebooks, Black-only businesses, and communication networks to keep them safe.
Green Book collection. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. A digital collection of Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African American travelers that provided a directory of safe destinations and places to stop -- hotels, restaurants, service stations, and other businesses -- in towns across the United States. It was published from 1936 to 1966.
Overground railroad: the Green Book and the roots of Black travel in America by Candacy A. Taylor (2020). eBook. Historical analysis of the Green Book, a travel guide for Black motorists, published from 1936 to 1966. The guide helped keep Black motorists safe during a time when travel was very dangerous; it listed places where Black travelers could find lodging, gas stations, car repair shops, restaurants, barber and beauty shops in cities and states across America.
Recasting American liberty: gender, race, law, and the railroad revolution, 1865-1920 by Barbara Young Welke (2001). Print. A dramatic reconsideration of how Americans encountered railroads and streetcars and the conditions of liberty during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. The author draws upon personal stories -- of men forced to jump from moving trains, Black women barred from first-class ladies' cars, and segregation of Black men to protect White women.
Sundown towns: a hidden dimension of American racism by James W. Loewen (2005). Print. Analysis of the history and persistence of "sundown towns," or White-only communities where African Americans and other minoritized groups were not allowed after dusk. The author chronicles the rise of the sundown town movement following the Civil War and charts the continued existence of these communities in states across the United States.
Traveling Black: a story of race and resistance by Mia Bay (2021). Print and eBook. An historical account of racial segregation and Black travel in America. The author examines Black people's methods for resisting the racial injustices of limited mobility and segregation.
“Who may travel how” in Jim Crow guide to the U.S.A.: the laws, customs and etiquette governing the conduct of nonwhites and other minorities as second-class citizens by Stetson Kennedy (2011). Print and eBook. Stetson Kennedy was an author and human rights activist who worked for the Federal Writers' Project alongside Zora Neale Hurston and is most remembered for infiltrating the KKK in the 1940s. This mock guidebook documents and exposes the system of legal American apartheid.
Film & Television
Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America (2020). Watch online at PBS.org. A documentary by PBS discussing how the advent of the automobile brought new mobility and freedom for African Americans but also exposed them to discrimination and deadly violence, and how that history resonates today.
Green Book (2018) on Amazon Prime Video and Google Play. A major motion picture based on real events. Don Shirley, an African American classical pianist, hires a working-class Italian-American man, Frank Vallelonga, to be his driver and bodyguard on a tour through the American South.
Lovecraft Country (2020) on HBOmax. An historical, sci-fi series based on the novel by Matt Ruff, following a Black veteran of the Korean War, his friend Letitia, and his Uncle George as they travel across 1950s Jim Crow America and endeavor to survive racial terror and supernatural monsters. Features many historical references, including the Negro Motorist Green Book.
Daybreak of freedom: the Montgomery bus boycott by ed. Stewart Burns (1997). eBook. Historical analysis of the Montgomery bus boycott, a 13-month protest that began with the arrest of Rosa Parks. The boycott ended following a Supreme Court ruling the determined segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. The author draws from over 100 original documents.
Freedom riders: 1961 and the struggle for racial justice by Raymond Arsenault (2006). Print. An historical account of the civil rights activists who challenged segregation in interstate transport during the spring and summer of 1961. A group of Black and White volunteers from Washington D.C. risked their lives by traveling together on buses through the American South, openly defying Jim Crow laws. Freedom Riders faced violence along the way; they were attacked, battered, and even firebombed.
Why busing failed: race, media, and the national resistance to school desegregation by Matthew F. Delmont (2016). eBook. School buses were used to achieve court-ordered and voluntary school desegregation following the passing of the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. The author examines the role of busing in the battle for school desegregation, discussing anti-busing parents against school desegregation and ultimately arguing that busing failed as a means to fully desegregate schools to achieve equality for Black students.
Sign from a segregated Nashville bus #351.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Freedom Riders (2011). Watch online at PBS.org. A PBS documentary depicting the harrowing story of Freedom Summer 1961, when more than 400 Black and White Americans risked their lives -- many enduring beatings and imprisonment -- for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South in defiance of Jim Crow laws.
Pulled over: how police stops define race and citizenship by multiple authors (2014). Print. Documents racial disparities in traffic tops among racialized minorities and traces the history of investigatory police stops from the beginning of "aggressive patrolling" to the current accept practice.
Racial Profiling by ed. Kris Hirschmann (2006). Print. A compilation of essays debating the use of racial profiling in law enforcement and security activities, including whether it is used, whether it works, and whether its use is justified. Some chapters relate to racial profiling as a means of police, surveillance, or controlling mobility.
"This is not Minority Report: predictive policing and population racism" by Joshua Scannell in Captivating technology: race, carceral technoscience, and liberatory imagination in everyday life by ed. Benjamin Ruha (2019). eBook. Examines how carceral technologies, such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms, are being deployed against specific populations. Some chapters relate to the use of such technologies in the policing, surveillance, or control of mobility.
Films and Video
Fruitvale Station (2013) on Amazon Prime Video. An independent film chronicling the last day of Oscar Grant's life, based on a true story. While visiting San Francisco with his friends and family on New Year's Eve, Grant gets swept up in an altercation with the police.
Queen & Slim (2019) on DVD at UConn Library and via Amazon Prime Video. A first date takes an unexpected turn when a cop pulls a young Black couple over for a minor traffic violation. When the situation escalates, Slim takes the officer's gun and shoots him in self-defense. Now labeled cop killers in the media, Slim and Queen feel that they have no choice but to go on the run and evade the law. When a video of the incident goes viral, the unwitting outlaws soon become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief, and pain for people all across the country.
LA 92 (2017) on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. A documentary examining the 1992 acquittal of the white police officers who beat Black motorist, Rodney King, sparking days of protests and violence in Los Angeles. Featuring rarely seen archival footage.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International License. | Details and Exceptions