News from the Research Commons

March 1, 2017

Spotlight: Matthew Howard on Race and Mobility


Growing up in Houston, Matthew Howard saw cars everywhere. What do cars give people? Mobility. As he gains a PhD in English, Matthew wonders: “can we consider mobility a human right?” and moreover, if mobility is tied to American identity, “what does that mean for people of color?”

Matthew is using the Negro Motorist Green Book, a map and guide published from the 1930s through the 1960s listing areas of safety for African American travelers. According to Matthew’s research, the automobile is an integral part of the American fabric; when African Americans began purchasing more cars they increased their ability to move through previously restricted spaces. Based on this societal shift, Matthew is asking “How much do we consider people of color part of the American fabric?”

Ultimately, Matthew is planning to build a digital tool with the Green Book map, demonstrating what it means to be American, mobile and a person of color. He is drawing out a narrative from the Green Book, which will highlight the implications and applications of this piece of history.