At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
Danielle L. McGuire
Rosa Parks was often described as a sweet and reticent elderly woman whose tired feet caused her to defy segregation on Montgomery’s city buses, and whose supposedly solitary, spontaneous act sparked the 1955 bus boycott that gave birth to the civil rights movement.
The truth of who Rosa Parks was and what really lay beneath the 1955 boycott is far different from anything previously written.
In this groundbreaking and important book, Danielle McGuire writes about the rape in 1944 of a twenty-four-year-old mother and sharecropper, Recy Taylor, who strolled toward home after an evening of singing and praying at the Rock Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, Alabama. Seven white men, armed with knives and shotguns, ordered the young woman into their green Chevrolet, raped her, and left her for dead. The president of the local NAACP branch office sent his best investigator and organizer to Abbeville. Her name was Rosa Parks. In taking on this case, Parks launched a movement that ultimately changed the world.
The author gives us the never-before-told history of how the civil rights movement began; how it was in part started in protest against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men who used economic intimidation, sexual violence, and terror to derail the freedom movement; and how those forces persisted unpunished throughout the Jim Crow era when white men assaulted black women to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy. Black women’s protests against sexual assault and interracial rape fueled civil rights campaigns throughout the South that began during World War II and went through to the Black Power movement. The Montgomery bus boycott was the baptism, not the birth, of that struggle.
At the Dark End of the Street describes the decades of degradation black women on the Montgomery city buses endured on their way to cook and clean for their white bosses. It reveals how Rosa Parks, by 1955 one of the most radical activists in Alabama, had had enough. “There had to be a stopping place,” she said, “and this seemed to be the place for me to stop being pushed around.” Parks refused to move from her seat on the bus, was arrested, and, with fierce activist Jo Ann Robinson, organized a one-day bus boycott.
The protest, intended to last twenty-four hours, became a yearlong struggle for dignity and justice. It broke the back of the Montgomery city bus lines and bankrupted the company.
We see how and why Rosa Parks, instead of becoming a leader of the movement she helped to start, was turned into a symbol of virtuous black womanhood, sainted and celebrated for her quiet dignity, prim demeanor, and middle-class propriety—her radicalism all but erased. And we see as well how thousands of black women whose courage and fortitude helped to transform America were reduced to the footnotes of history.
A controversial, moving, and courageous book; narrative history at its best.
“Pent Up Critique on the Rape Case,” ibid., May 14, 1959. 26. PC, May 30, 1959, 3; “Mr. Muhammad Speaks,” PC, May 16, 1959. 27. Ella Baker quoted in PC, May 30, 1959, 3; see also Ransby, Ella, 210. “Enforce the Law,” NYAN, May 9, 1959; “What Will Florida Do,” PC, May 16, 1959. 28. “King Asks Ike to Go to Mississippi,” BAA, May 23, 1959; see also Martin Luther King, Jr., to Clifford C. Taylor, May 5, 1959, in The Papers of Martin Luther King, vol. 6 (Berkeley, Calif., forthcoming). Thanks to
boycott, they were also the primary targets of white retaliation. Aside from getting fired from their jobs, which was the most common reprisal, African-American women walking to work remained vulnerable to physical and sexual harassment. Whites in passing cars pelted pedestrians with “water balloons and containers of urine … rotten eggs, potatoes and apples.”134 Jo Ann Robinson was terrified when two white men threw a brick through her window. Shortly thereafter she saw two policemen pour acid on
shirtsleeves rolled up. He and another man run off “a few hundred” copies of the announcement calling for a one-day boycott. And the rest, as they say, is history.167 Rosa Parks speaks with an interviewer as she arrives at court with E. D. Nixon (center) and eighty-nine other African Americans on trial for violating a 1921 antiboycott law. (photo credit 3.17) Unfortunately, this King-centric and male-dominated version of events obscures the real history of the Montgomery bus boycott as a
twice. He emphatically denied using force, despite the fact that he acknowledged that there was one shell in the barrel of his shotgun and two in the magazine. When Hopkins questioned him, Scarborough admitted that Owens pleaded, “Please don’t hurt me,” but insisted that she offered “no resistance.” He denied kissing her at first, and then said he kissed her on the neck while he had sex with her.41 Defense attorneys tried a series of contradictory approaches to win over the jury. First, they
1964 a Ku Klux Klan resurgence threatened black activists throughout the state.79 In Laurel, Mississippi, a small town just outside Hattiesburg, Sam Bowers, the forty-year-old Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, declared that his mission “was the destruction of the Mississippi civil rights movement.” Since the White Citizens’ Council had been unable to crush the freedom movement, the White Knights felt it was their turn to try. According to the Hattiesburg American, the