The late chef Leah Chase and New Orleans writer Lolis Eric Elie are two of the voices heard when PBS debuts "Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America" at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The two-hour documentary film "chronicles the riveting history and personal experiences – at once liberating and challenging, harrowing and inspiring, deeply revealing and profoundly transforming – of African Americans on the road from the advent of the automobile through the seismic changes of the 1960s and beyond," according to a PBS news release.

Acclaimed historian Dr. Gretchen Sorin and Emmy–winning director Ric Burns helmed the project.

While out on America's highways, finding safe lodging and dining were often a challenge. The Negro Motorist Green Book guided them to secure overnight accommodations and welcoming restaurants, including New Orleans' famed Dooky Chase.

"Once they were inside this building, nobody was going to worry them," owner Leah Chase says in the film while greeting diners seated around a large round table. 

“'Driving while Black' entails so much more than the simply driving while Black. It's living while Black. It's sleeping while Black. It’s eating while Black. It’s moving while Black," writer/scholar Herb Boyd says in the documentary. "So, when we start talking about the restrictions placed on Black movement in this country, that's a long history. That goes all the way back to day one. And so, you have to get to the root of it.”

The program offers interviews with African Americans sharing their personal stories, along with historians, authors and journalists, also including: Eric Avila (professor of history, UCLA), Tamara Banks (journalist), Spencer Crew (interim director, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian), Walter Edwards (chairman, Harlem Business Alliance), Carolyn Finney (author), Kathleen Franz (author), Alvin Hall (journalist), Allyson Hobbs, (professor of history, Stanford University), Kenneth Jackson (professor of history and social sciences, Columbia University), Jennifer Reut (architectural historian), Fath Ruffins (curator, African American history and culture in the Division of Home and Community Life in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History), Thomas J. Sugrue (professor of history, New York University), Candacy Taylor (author), Christopher West (professor of history, Pasadena City College) and Craig Steven Wilder (professor of history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

"Driving While Black" will be available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App.


Email Judy Bergeron at jbergeron@theadvocate.com.