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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 Paperback – October 4, 2011
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“A story of courage. . . . At the Dark End of the Street is an important step to finally facing the terrible legacies of race and gender in this country.” —The Washington Post
“McGuire goes far beyond other historians in exploring the origins of the civil rights movement…. A powerful book that should alter forever how the civil rights movement is viewed.” —Grand Rapids Press
“A vital retelling…. Full of lively … storytelling, and buttressed by excellent research, Danielle McGuire’s provocative narrative forces readers to rethink what they know about that pivotal movement in U. S. history: its time frame, its actors, its legacy.” —Ms.
“One of those rare studies that makes a well-known story seem startlingly new. Anyone who thinks he knows the history of the modern civil rights movement needs to read this terrifying, illuminating book.” —Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age, winner of the National Book Award.
“Valuable for reminding us of Parks’s radicalism. She was not a frail old lady who wouldn’t get up from her bus seat ‘because she was tired and her feet ached.’ . . . A welcome corrective.” —The Independent Weekly (Raleigh, NC)
“Groundbreaking. . . . Inspiring.” —Elle
“People can learn about a new side of Rosa Parks. They can also discover other previously unknown female freedom fighters.” —Time
“This gripping story changes the history books, giving us a revised Rosa Parks and a new civil rights story. You can’t write a general U.S. history without altering crucial sentences because of McGuire’s work. Masterfully narrated, At the Dark End of the Street presents a deep civil rights movement with women at the center, a narrative as poignant, painful and complicated as our own lives.” —Timothy B. Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story
“McGuire restores to memory the courageous black women who dared seek legal remedy, when black women and their families faced particular hazards for doing so. McGuire brings the reader through a dark time via a painful but somehow gratifying passage in this compelling, carefully documented work.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
“Just when we thought there couldn’t possibly be anything left to uncover about the civil rights movement, Danielle McGuire finds a new facet of that endlessly prismatic struggle at the core of our national identity.” —Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
“Eye-opening.” —Sacramento Book Review
“Following the lead of pioneers like Darlene Clark Hine, Danielle McGuire details the all too ignored tactic of rape of black women in the everyday practice of southern white supremacy. Just as important, she plots resistance against this outrage as an integral facet of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This book is as essential as its history is infuriating.” —Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People
About the Author
Danielle L. McGuire was born in Janesville, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She is an assistant professor in the History Department at Wayne State University and lives in Detroit, Michigan.
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I watched The Help, and it failed to mention the sexual assaults and rapes that the black women suffered. Although i enjoyed the movie somewhat, i was still disappointed because they refused to let our REAL stories get told. You can't have a good story set in the Jim Crow era without telling the rampant rapes of black women by white men and other men. It's part of our history. Whether many people want to admit it or not!
Ms. McGuire starts by pointing out the myth of Rosa Parks: that she was a reserved, reticent, respectable and tired old black woman who made a spontaneous choice which spontaneously ignited the Civil Rights Movement. That myth was arguably necessary in the context of the explosive violence against blacks in the mid-twentieth century and the need for "respectability" in finding a sympathetic "face" of the movement, but the myth also obscures the reality of the originals of the Civil Rights Movement (and Rosa Parks' real role in it), which was not a spontaneous event starting in the mid-1950s, but rather a final rolling boil resulting from the heat of black women's anger of the decades' (or perhaps centuries') long violation of their bodily integrity and womanhood while "pure" white womanhood was staunchly protected and grounds for lynching of any black man who dared to cross the color line. Equal rights was, to hear Southern whites tell it, only a convenient cover for lustful black men to despoil the flower of white Southern womanhood.
I'd argue that it's nearly impossible to date the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Harriet Tubman was leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and long before her Africans and African-Americans were fighting slavery from the day the first blacks were taken into slavery, although their names have mostly been lost to history. Nonetheless, Ms. McGuire starts her story with Rosa Parks. Not the prim and proper Rosa Parks we all think we know, but the militant civil rights activist who defended women like Mrs. Recy Taylor, abducted and raped by seven white men in the early 1940s. In addition to that case, Parks traveled far and wide throughout the South listening to and documenting black women's and girl's sexual degradation at the hands of white men. She helped to draw attention to these outrages and bring them to justice in Southern courts, a tall order during the height of Jim Crow. Although Parks was never successful in securing justice against the perpetrators of such crimes, she did succeed in raising awareness and laying the groundwork for many of the Civil Rights victories in the decades to come.
Nor did she work alone. In fact, McGuire argues, despite the male faces we now associate with the Civil Rights Movement, it was from inception a movement of women for women to reclaim - or, rather, claim for the first time - their right to bodily integrity. The richly varied hues of the complexions of African-Americans testifies to the phoniness of racist concerns over "miscegenation" and the "amalgamation" of the races. Since slavery days, white masters had raped and sexually dominated the bodies of black women, subjecting them to every sort of indignity. Black women were not safe walking in any neighborhood, whether "good" or "bad". Black women working in white homes, offices and factories were not safe from their white employers and co-workers. Black women endured humiliation and abuse riding the public buses. And black women in jail or prison - whether on legitimate or, more often, trumped up charges - were in the greatest danger of all with almost no protection or recourse.
At the same time as white men were wreaking havoc on black women's bodies, white women's bodies were sacrosanct, at least from black men. The slightest violation, real or alleged, by a black man of the South's strict segregation codes was grounds for at best, arrest, at worst, summary lynching. Such strict measures were necessary, argued white demagogues, because lustful black men wanted nothing more than to ravish white women and were utterly unable to contain their bases urges. Pot, kettle, anyone?
Finally, black women had had enough. The had virtually no power. The courts would not recognize their claims and, in fact, made them the guilty parties by smearing them as "prostitutes" and women of "low" character. Even black men were reluctant to stand up due to fears of reprisal But the women had one thing: their voices. More and more black women came forward to speak and testify about the abuses they suffered. Little by little they refused to be victims anymore. And little by little society heard (although, sadly, they usually heard a lot better when whites got involved). But the more society at large heard, the more the militant Southerners regrouped to protect "the Southern Way of Life".
This book has a bit of a repetitive feel to it, but actually it's more layered. In chapter after chapter, McGuire focuses on a case that became famous and represented an important milestone in the Movement, while weaving in dozens of similar cases and opposing cases where the races were reversed. In each case, the pattern is roughly the same, but each time small gains are made moving public awareness and black outrage and white retaliation one step closer to confrontation, one step closer to justice. In the meantime, McGuire has piled on so many episodes of white on black violence and injustice that it is impossible to deny that this was anything other than an entrenched, universal pattern throughout the South. Black women were repeatedly victimized, then re-victimized by having the character publically smeared, while white Southern society rallied around the perpetrators and further intimidated blacks.
But blacks would not be silenced, and slowly the tide turned. From Recy Taylor, who could not get justice after being raped by seven white men to Joan Little who was acquitted of killing the white jailer who attempted to rape her, black women changed the course of history and reclaimed the rights to their own bodies. Furthermore, the issue of "respectability" was dealt a painful blow. Even as a married woman and mother, Recy Taylor was not deemed "respectable" enough in 1942. Joan Little, on the other hand, was decidedly not "respectable, yet by 1975 she could be the face of the Movement. White women finally began recognizing what their black sisters had been speaking truth to power for decades: no woman, regardless of her past or her behavior, deserved to be raped.
But now, another 35+ years later, we are dealing with the case of an unarmed dead black teenager and trying to decide if he was on drugs, what his school suspensions might have meant, and other hints that he might have deserved to die. And just like our compatriots decades ago, we argue with all seriousness that race isn't the issue in this case - everything would, of course, be exactly the same had the races been reversed. Of course! Of course a black George Zimmerman would have been released after killing a white/Latino Trayvon Martin and claiming self defense. In this post-racial, "colorblind" world, race no longer matters and the racists are the ones who say it does.
This book is essential reading for a "post-racial" world. If anything, I'd like to see Ms. McGuire continue her thesis with an exploration of the time since Joan Little's historic victory. Although the patterns are more subtle - few whites dare openly use the N-word anymore, for instance, the can still be seen shimmering beneath the veneer of polite, "colorblind" American society in the twenty-first century.
attention in this books history of the Southern Jim Crow era; still alive in many small towns and small minds especially since the resurgence of racism in the last election.
Women who kept the flames of the civil rights movement, women who bravely gave their lives for others are highlighted, though justice may not have prevailed for them -their lantern lit the path ahead for others. This is a must read and worthy another read again.
Our children's children need to know this truth; it must not die.