*Henry Louis Gates, Jr. covers everything from the arrival of black conquistador Juan Garrido in Florida to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in the new PBS documentary series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.”
Gates also touches on the significance of the automobile as the auto industry has played a large role in creating jobs for blacks in Detroit. With the addition of cars, blacks had a new sense of freedom, mobile freedom and the ability to move north away from the Jim Crow laws and institutional racism.
But the 1930s through 1950s was a pretty dangerous time for blacks to travel by car as the towns that often refused to serve them weren’t really safe for them to drive through. Gates says some black drivers used “Negro Motorist Green Book” to find friendly places to travel along the way.
In the documentary we see Gates as he uses a 1934 Buick to travel places listed in the Green Book.
“I’m a bit of a car nut, so I enjoyed driving that Buick,” Gates said after the screening. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, also mentioned a current quest to track down and buy back his first car — a 1957 Chevrolet he bought for $150.
The six-part documentary begins Oct. 22 and continues on Tuesdays through Nov. 26.