Author and historian Danielle McGuire, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit, told an Albany Civil Rights Institute audience Thursday night that the sexual exploitation of black women helped form the early roots of the civil rights movement.
ALBANY, Ga. — Historian and author Danielle McGuire says history points to the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott as the nascent moment of the Civil Rights Movement, but she contends the actual seeds were planted six years earlier in Abbeville, Ala.
“In 1949, Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old mother and sharecropper, on her way home from an evening church service in Abbeville, was abducted and raped by seven white men who and left her for dead “ McGuire told a gathering Thursday at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. “The NAACP sent in their best investigator to Abbeville — Rosa Parks.”
An associate professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit, McGuire is the author of a 2004 essay, “ ‘It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped’: Black Womanhood, White Violence, and the Civil Rights Movement.”
It won the Organization of American Historians Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for the best essay in American History by a graduate student and was published in the Journal of American History. The essay became a pivotal chapter in her book “At the Dark End of the Street.”
McGuire contends the civil rights movement actually began in the 1940s in part as a protest against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men who used sexual violence and terror to derail the freedom movement.
“By the time of the Montgomery bus boycott, Parks was a seasoned civil rights activist,” McGuire said. “Black women were regularly assaulted and humiliated, mainly on buses and street cars. And they didn’t always keep these stories secrets.
“Popular history says that the civil rights movement began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but the almost ritualistic rape and humiliation of black women was at the center of the struggle for freedom.”
McGuire points to the 1949 rape in Montgomery of 25-year-old Gertrude Parker, who was walking home and pulled off of the street and raped by two Montgomery police officers.
They were charged with rape and assault but were later acquitted by an all-white jury.
“The Montgomery Police Department not only had a reputation of being racist, but also of being sexist,” McGuire said.
While the officers were acquitted, McGuire said the outrage generated within the black community “brought the city’s disparate black ministers together for the first time and formed the infrastructure of the movement.”
Later, McGuire pointed out, a rape of another black woman by a white grocery store owner led to the movement’s first successful boycott.
“Women helped establish the boycott as a tool in the struggle for freedom. They were involved in every aspect of each successful boycott,” McGuire said. “The boycotts are often portrayed as spontaneous and led by ministers, but it was really women like Recy Taylor and Gertrude Perkins that gave them life.”