At the dark end of the street: black women, rape & resistance [book review]

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At the Dark End of the Street
reviewed by Anthony Gayle

Wayne State University Professor Danielle McGuire's latest book, At the Dark End of the Street, takes a fresh look at the events leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. She documents how sexual violence was used as a tactic of terror by white men against black women and the black community by proxy. Through early accounts of historic figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks, we see that the drive for civil rights originated as much in the desire to protect black women from attack from white men as the desire to assert the rights and humanity of all black people. Indeed, these two desires were often one and the same.

This book paints a very different picture of various civil rights activists. They weren’t meek, unassuming individuals caught up in the wave of history; they acted with purpose and passion. Rosa Parks did much more than just, as Eddie from the Barbershop might say, “sit her black ass down.”

It is true that there were black people who were arrested before Rosa Parks for the exact same crime: Claudette Colvin, Mary Smith, etc. Still, McGuire does well in documenting the early activism of Rosa parks, including her investigative work into the gang rape of Recy Taylor, because it gives the reader a better sense of the courageous woman who refused to give up her seat on December 1, 1955.
For me, this book accomplishes two very important things. First, it demonstrates that black women were the original feminists in this country. Having been subject to sexual exploitation and violence since the inception of this country, they have always had to fight to claim and reclaim their bodies and their identities. Secondly, I think this book serves as another reminder of how much can be accomplished when black men and women work together. It may seem like a simple message, but it's one that's sorely needed today.