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.
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."