OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Danielle L. McGuire

Portrait of Danielle L. McGuire

Danielle L. McGuire is the author of 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 (2010), which won the OAH Frederick Jackson Turner Award, the Lillian Smith Award, and the Southern Association of Women Historians' Julia Cherry Spruill Award, and received an honorable mention for the OAH Darlene Clark Hine Award. She is also a coeditor, with John Dittmer, of Freedom Rights: New Perspectives in the Civil Rights Movement (2011). Her new book, "Murder in the Motor City: The 1967 Detroit Riot and American Injustice," is forthcoming.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In 1944, in Abbeville, Alabama, an African American woman named Recy Taylor walked home from a church revival. A car full of white men kidnapped her off the street, drove her to the woods and gang raped her at gunpoint. Then they dropped her off in the middle of town and told her they would kill her if she told anyone what happened. But that night, she told her husband, father and the local sheriff about the assault. A few days later the NAACP called to say they were sending their very best investigator. Her name was Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks carried Taylor’s story back to Montgomery where she and the city’s most militant activists organized what the Chicago Defender called “the strongest campaign for equal justice in a decade.” Eleven years later this group of homegrown activists would become better known as the Montgomery Improvement Association, vaunting it’s president, Martin Luther King Jr. to international prominence and launching a movement, the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, that would help change the world. But when the coalition first took root, Dr. King was still in High School. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, often heralded as the opening scene of the civil rights movement, was in many ways, one of the last acts of a decades-long struggle to protect black women, like Taylor, from sexualized violence and rape. Indeed, major civil rights campaigns in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina had roots in organized resistance to sexual violence. This lecture uses the story of Recy Taylor (and other survivors of racialized sexual violence) to highlight how African American women have long been at the center of protests against sexual violence and how those protests often led to major social movements. African American women testified about sexual assault decades before anyone took back the night, made the personal political or said "Me,Too."
It has been fifty years since the flames of rage and frustration consumed one hundred blocks of Detroit. In just one terrifying week in the summer of 1967, forty-three people died, seven thousand people—mostly young African-American men—were arrested, and nearly twenty thousand armed policemen, National Guardsmen, and paratroopers patrolled the streets. As hundreds of businesses burned and citizens’ dreams were shattered, the slow and steady march of tanks with mounted machine guns announced the re-imposition of order with frightening clarity. In an effort to understand what caused the uprising in Detroit and several other cities in the tumultuous 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which argued that nearly all the riots were rooted in a history of racial inequality and police violence. This talk focuses on the murder of three young African American men by white policemen on July 26, 1967 at the Algiers Motel in Detroit to help understand and reinterpret the history of the 1967 uprising and to contextualize the current focus on police violence and the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Investigating this case offers opportunities to explore not just the history of racial violence but also the ways in which ordinary men and women experienced, interpreted and survived it. By narrowing my focus to one case that began in the middle of one long, hot riotous night, this story captures the essence of the frustration and despair that fueled the rebellion and exposed the dark underside of the so-called “Model City,” where racial violence, inequality and segregation was every bit as virulent as in Mississippi or Alabama. Maybe it was even worse.
Six years after her death in 2005, Rosa Parks made national news when an essay she penned in the 1950s about a “near rape” by a white man in Alabama was released to the public for the first time. The six-page handwritten essay detailed Parks’s steely resistance to a white neighbor, “Mr. Charlie,” who attempted to assault her in 1931 while she was babysitting."I was ready to die," she wrote, "but give my consent never. Never, never." We may never know if Rosa Parks meant the essay as autobiographical or metaphorical, as a story to be kept locked away or told in front of a crowd, but a first-person account of sexualized violence from a young working-class black woman is very rare and that alone marks it as important. These stories are often not visible in the archive, but fragments of this history can sometimes be found in court documents, in clubwomen’s speeches and letters, in the pages of African American newspapers and in the oral tradition where grandmothers told their daughters; aunts told their nieces; and friends warned each other about the dangers that awaited them in white spaces. Still, we have a very incomplete record of the kind of daily terrors and indignities black women and girls faced in the Jim Crow South and how they resisted (if they could) and recovered from (if and when they did) the trauma of racialized sexual brutality. Their invisibility in the archive speaks to their historic powerlessness and disfranchisement as citizens in the segregated South. However, it is from those fragments and those testimonies that we can craft a new history of empowerment and active citizenship, of black women’s agency and leadership. At the very least, we can better understand the history we think we know.
In popular history, Rosa Parks rarely moves off that seat on the Montgomery city bus making her defiance of segregation a thoroughly southern story. But she spent the next forty years as an engaged activist in Detroit, fighting segregation, police brutality and discrimination in jobs, housing, and education, reminding us that racism was not merely a southern phenomenon. This lecture goes behind the myth of Rosa Parks to tell her history as a radical activist beginning in the 1930s and ending in the 1990s.
"History matters--and when done well, it has the power to change the world. Our job as historians is to make the dead past live again. We must read deeply and rethink old narratives; look at the past with new eyes; and practice telling good stories. The future of the profession depends on it." This lecture offers practical writing and storytelling advice for anyone interested in making history matter; in telling stories that influence public policy; and using history as a tool to inspire and even change the present.