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A featured event of the University at Albany History Department's

Researching New York Conference

Driving While Black

Film screening and conversation/Q&A with director Ric Burns and author Gretchen Sullivan Sorin

Driving While Black

Drawing on a rich archive of material from the period, Driving While Black explores the role of the automobile in the lives of African Americans in the early 20th century, and chronicles a crucial and transformative period in American racial, cultural, and social history.

7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019
Page Hall, UAlbany downtown campus
135 Western Avenue, Albany
Free and open to the public

(USA, 2020, Run Time TBD, b/w and color)

Based on over a decade of research by acclaimed African American historian Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, this feature-length documentary is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns, and slated for broadcast on PBS during the 2020 season.


Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program of Museum Studies (SUNY). She received her Ph.D. in History from UAlbany in 2009. Her research explores the role of the automobile in the lives of African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Her forthcoming book is Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights (February 2020).

Ric Burns is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, producer and director of historical documentary films. He collaborated with his brother Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward on the landmark PBS series, The Civil War (1990). His acclaimed films for American Experience include Coney Island, Ansel Adams, New York, Eugene O’Neill, Andy Warhol and Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World.


This presentation is a featured public event of the University at Albany History Department’s annual Researching New York Conference and is cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute. More information:

About the documentary:

The documentary film Driving While Black, chronicles the history of African Americans on the road from the 1930's to the 1960's, a crucial and transformative period in American racial, cultural and social history. Drawing on a rich archive of material from the period, along with riveting oral histories and the on-camera insights of scholars, writers, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and ordinary American travelers, the film explores the genre of travel literature aimed at helping black travelers navigate Jim Crow America. At the heart of this unique travel literature and the social issues that made it necessary lies a powerfully revealing narrative of freedom, mobility and race in America –  one still relevant and resonant today.

See more at

Driving While Back documentary

Interview with Yvette and Ellis Marsalis. Photo by Emily Pfeil

About The Classic Film Series

The NYS Writers Institute’s Classic Film Series, presented with support from Marc Guggenheim, UAlbany Class of ‘92, features screenings of domestic and international films of distinction and film festivals devoted to the work of particular directors, producers, or screenwriters.

The series has included rare films culled from archives and private collections, pre-release screenings from major studios, contemporary international offerings, as well as classics made in the U.S. The Institute will launch the Albany Film Festival in March 2020.

Some of the filmmakers and screenwriters who have visited the Institute have included Hal Ashby, Hector Babenco, Costa-Gavras, Tomas Gutierrez-Alea, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Neil Jordan, Spike Lee, Albert Mayseles, Gordon Parks, Sr., Raoul Peck, D.A. Pennebacker and Chris Hegedus, Bob Rafelson, Phil Alden Robinson, Wallace Shawn, Ron Shelton, Christine Vachon, Agnes Varda, and Robert Wise, and Doug Wright.


Classic Film Series

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