Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a slave (New York: Penguin Books, 2012). (461)

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McGuire, Danielle. 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. (New York: Knopf, 2010), 1-233. (233)
The retaliation of white populations against the African American community through the means of sexual violence has never been an aspect of civil rights which is talked about, but the horrors of these instances were plentiful in the reality of the south in the post-Reconstruction through Civil Rights era. Chapter 2 focuses on these many instances, while pinpoint some of the most tragic and graphic, including the story of McKenzie and Blackmon, two colored female military personal sexually assaulted on a bus at an Alabama Military academy.248 Their story, though more and more similar to the others detailed through the text, caught the special interest of Thurgood Marshall, the young attorney who would become one of the many faces of the NAACP and the Civil Rights movements of the future. Though the barrage of sexual assaults and rapes against women of color was disgustingly explosive, the rates at which they were being reported to the NAACP and colored organization was tenfold. In one of her most famous speeches though, Parks was sure to reiterate their small level of success, as “no one should feel proud when Negroes every day are being molested and maltreated”.249 This plethora of maltreatments, though, again, lacking their place in the history books, worked to fuel the fire that became the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As Chapters 3 and 4 detail, the movement was not just about the general movement and the rights for African Americans to have the same rights, but it was in regards to a decade long struggle on behalf of African American women against abuses by white bus drivers, police offices and members of the general authority.250 Perhaps one of the more interesting points which McGuire explores is in her fifth chapter and the case of Betty Jean Owens, a young co-ed who was raped. As McGuire explains, using the phrasing of Buford Gibson, “You must remember it wasn’t just one Negro girl that was raped – it was all of Negro womanhood in the South”.251 This identification of one case as the exemplification of an epidemic is a tool which is still accurately used today against issues of white supremacy and patriarchy, especially by leftist groups, continued efforts by the NAACP and feminist movements over the past decades.

The varied instances of sexual assault used as a power mechanism against women is not necessarily a rare occurrence, nor is it necessarily an aspect which is quick to be made newsworthy. As Danielle McGuire thoroughly researches and depicts in her book, 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, the instigation of rape and sexual assault as tools to power and control were implemented far before the Civil Rights Movement that the history books depict. In fact issues revolving around sexual violence, particularly against women of color, remains a crucial aspect to the movement but also to the white supremacist resistance.252 Though McGuire begins her work with the intricate and overtly cringe-worthy story of Recy Taylor and the investigation by the NAACP and Rosa Parks, the highlighting of Parks deep and invested background in social injustice advocacy plays a crucial role in understanding the impact of her efforts on the part of Taylor.253 The power conflict implemented against these women throughout McGuire’s introduction are somewhat obvious targets of white supremacist retaliation, but the same goes for instances of black men being accused of the rapes of white women, as solid examples lies in the continued rumors in the early century of the “black beast rapist”.254 Ultimately two societal fallacies fueled the patriarchy through this time frame, and in more subdued instances still does – the disenfranchisement of black males into a monster-esque persona and the loss of autonomy of black women over their own bodies, and in conjunction their own selves.

McGuire’s final chapters highlight further stories of sexual assault and rape as power structures within the race dynamics during, pre-, and post-Civil Rights Movement. These chapters also go one step further and examine the relationship that these actions have with the autonomy of the African American woman, specifically her own body. As chapter six opens with the story of Liza Bramlett and her children born as products of rape, the chapter truly highlights that sexual assault was not the only crime against women’s bodies occurring, as forced sterilization and hysterectomies were common practices upon doctors appointments.255 The summer of 1964 brought a new-ish element to the movements against these assaults, as a resurgence of the KKK sprung towards the American public and works violently against any kind of steps made by black activists.256 The juxtaposition which this resurgence posed in regards to critical advances achieved by activists is one which has occurred over and over and over throughout history and, though not as vehemently, are conflicts which are present in the modern day. Perhaps McGuire’s most critical statement comes through her epilogue, as she highlights the present reality of her opening story of Recy Taylor, as she explains the dynamics of the effects of the entwined nature of sexual assault and racism in post-Reconstruction United States. Throughout the history of the United States African American women have never, by popular culture, been considered themselves autonomous, or even dignified humans worthy of respect.257 This fact lies an open wound in the psyche of America, with sexual assault and rape as a continued source of salt. McGuire’s analysis of this dynamic is beautifully and viscerally laid out, in a manner which is critical and overall a piece, perhaps, which is one of the most important pieces of our time.

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