Film Club: ‘Traveling While Black’

Film Club: ‘Traveling While Black’

Note to teachers: This film contains depictions of violence and a racial slur. Please preview the entire film before sharing it with students to make sure it is appropriate for your class.


How have race and racism impacted African Americans’ ability to move freely throughout the United States in the past and today?

Traveling While Black” is a 20-minute 360 degree video that touches on themes of racism and resistance. It tells the history of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide that listed restaurants, bars, hotels and private homes that welcomed African-American travelers across the country in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. The film explores the complicated history of “The Green Book” and the dangers and humiliations that black travelers still face today.


1. Watch the short film above. While you watch, you might take notes using our Film Club Double-Entry Journal (PDF) to help you remember specific moments.

2. After watching, think about these questions:

• What moments in this film stood out for you? Why?

• Were there any surprises? Anything that challenged what you know — or thought you knew?

• What messages, emotions or ideas will you take away from this film? Why?

• What questions do you still have?

3. An additional challenge: What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?

4. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

5. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

6. To learn more, read “The Green Book’s Black History.” Brent Staples writes:

Imagine trudging into a hotel with your family at midnight — after a long, grueling drive — and being turned away by a clerk who “loses” your reservation when he sees your black face.

This was a common hazard for members of the African-American elite in 1932, the year Dr. B. Price Hurst of Washington, D.C., was shut out of New York City’s Prince George Hotel despite having confirmed his reservation by telegraph. …

The Hurst case was a cause célèbre in 1936 when a Harlem resident and postal worker named Victor Hugo Green began soliciting material for a national travel guide that would steer black motorists around the humiliations of the not-so-open road and point them to businesses that were more than happy to accept colored dollars. As the historian Gretchen Sullivan Sorin writes in her revelatory study of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” the guide became “the bible of every Negro highway traveler in the 1950s and early 1960s.”



• See all the films in this series.

• Read our list of practical teaching ideas, along with responses from students and teachers, for how you can use these documentaries in the classroom.

• Our next Film Club will take place on Thursday, March 7.