When Victor H. Green’s “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” series was being published (from 1936 to 1964), it was a literal lifesaver for Black travelers looking for safe passage during segregation. Since 2016, photographer Jonathan Calm has been revisiting the book’s sites to create a new archive of black and white images that explores the idea of being free to drive across America while Black.
“There were definitely more dangerous times to be a Black motorist, even though it doesn’t feel like that today,” Calm told KQED in a video interview. “We have way too many Black men and women being pulled out of cars, being killed by police officers. So my project is to look at the past to understand where we are today.”
In Calm’s “Travel is Fatal to Prejudice” series (2017-18) the New York City-based artist superimposed a target symbol over Google Map aerial views cities, then labeled them with the names of Black people who were victimized while driving, including Rodney King, Philando Castile and Sandra Bland. According to the series description, it is meant to evoke “the cyclical nature of a history of violent oppression that keeps repeating itself, at the risk of desensitizing the public.”
The “Green Book: Journey Through the South” series (2016-17) documents Calm's impression of his first road trip through the South, from Tallahassee to Montgomery, Jackson, Memphis and finally Ferguson. “I want to be free, and this drive is investigating that level of freedom,” Calm told KQED.
Visit Jonathan Calm’s website to see both series. And watch the interview below, where he speaks about the activism behind his art, courtesy of KQED Arts: