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Alvin Hall ’74 speaks on new podcast “Driving the Green Book”

November 13, 2020

On Tuesday, the Office of Alumni Relations hosted an hour-long talk with Alvin Hall ’74 discussing his new podcast, “Driving the Green Book,” which documents a road trip he took from Detroit to New Orleans. The talk, moderated by President Clayton Rose, delved into the origins and purpose of this project.

The idea for the trip originated Hall’s his study of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a Jim Crow-era guidebook written by Victor Hugo Green that provided a list of businesses that were accommodating to Black travelers. The guide was the inspiration for the 2018 film “Green Book,” but Hall pointed out that before the film’s release, most people he spoke to had never heard about the original guide.

For Hall, this lack of knowledge among the general American public and the success of an interview he did in the United Kingdom revealed the clear need for education around the matter. This inspired Hall to launch his own project relating to the book, ultimately resulting in him embarking on a 12-day, 2,000 mile cross-country road trip following the guide. He traveled with social activist Janée Woods Weber.

However, when Hall started first searching for a podcast producer and director, he faced rejection after rejection.

“Most people thought of ‘The Green Book’ as an out of date, obsolete publication … they thought it was something that had virtually no cultural significance at all. It was just something that people didn’t need anymore. ‘Why do we need to do this? We live in a post-racial world,’” Hall said.

But over the course of the trip, Hall and Weber conducted over 45 interviews, collecting testimony from individuals who had used “The Green Book” in the Jim Crow era, and many interviewees connected their past experiences to similar things Black travelers continue to experience today.

“It’s just like driving while Black today. It may have morphed into something different, but the underlying motive is still the same,” Hall said. “That if you find yourself in the wrong white neighborhood or dealing with the wrong cop or a cop who’s in a bad mood, something could go wrong. People forget that in those days. Especially in the South, any white person could stop a Black person for any reason whatsoever … So you see echoes of this today.”

These interviews were the seed for “Driving the Green Book.”

“After we got the interviews, we realized that we had something far richer than what we imagined. Those personal stories that people shared with us became the core of how I would build the podcast series,” Hall said.

President Rose asked Hall about the 2018 adaptation “Green Book,” which won an Academy Award for Best Picture and brought the guidebook into the national spotlight. Hall, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the film’s historical accuracy, noting that its script was written from the perspective of the driver’s son instead of that of the Black protagonist.

“It was very clear to me that no one in that production staff had any real knowledge of what it was like to travel through the South in those days,” Hall said.

In terms of his own podcast, Hall said that he would love to see it developed further.

“I would love to do it as a movie. I would love to bring these people’s stories to visual life,” he said.

As of now, the production company Macmillan Podcasts hopes to offer it to schools and historical societies across the country. Hall expressed that this will be an important step in increasing education around what it was like to live and travel in the South during the Jim Crow era.

“For every story that you read about in the accepted textbooks that are shaped by Texas and North Carolina and those states with huge school systems, there’s a world out there that is being quite denied and quite ignored,” Hall said. “Why? Because [not ignoring] it holds a mirror up to the people who participated in the denial. And most people don’t want to own that participation.”

Hall concluded by reflecting on where we are now in this country when it comes to racism.

“In America, over time, we moved racism from a category of a moral issue into a personality issue, and today we’re seeing very much the consequences of that,” he said.

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