Race and the Automobile in American Life and Society
Race and the automobile have had long, intertwined histories in America.
When Wendell Scott, the only African-American ever to win a major NASCAR
race, took the checkered flag at Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963, his victory
in this southern city at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was
commemorated without the usual Victory Lane photographs and trophy kiss.
Today, by contrast, NASCAR is actively attempting to develop black drivers
and crews and to attract black fans. However revealing, such an anecdote
merely hints at the larger intersection between cars and racial issues.
In his first essay, Thomas Sugrue charts the connections between the automobile, the
automobile industry, and the geography of race in twentieth-century Detroit.
The automobile industry’s presence in Detroit, and its
decisions about the location of its factories, have had a profound
impact on who lives where in the Motor City. And Detroit’s history, Sugrue shows, is both typical and idiosyncratic. In his
second essay, Sugrue examines more closely the
various ways in which the automobile has been part of African-American
history and culture. This focus on blacks, particularly appropriate given Sugrue’s interest in Detroit, should not be taken to mean
that the story of race and the car is solely an African-American one. As the
movie The Fast and the Furious, with its multi-ethnic Los Angeles
street racers, might suggest, an equally complex tale could be told of the
car’s place in the worlds of Hispanics, Asians, or other groups.