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

by Danielle L. McGuire

Paper Book, 2010


Checked out


New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.


A history of America's civil rights movement traces the pivotal influence of sexual violence that victimized African American women for centuries, revealing Rosa Parks's contributions as an anti-rape activist years before her heroic bus protest.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This is a fascinating account of the influence of sexual violence on integration. Many white men in the south, while decrying integration fearing it would lead to miscegenation, regularly engaged in "night time integration" cruising the streets of the black neighborhoods to find women to have sex with. Rape was common and unprosecuted. Rosa Parks, yes that Rosa Parks, was an investigator for the NAACP and specialized in supporting women who were sexually violated. It's an exploration of a little known side of the fight for integration. McGuire starts out with the story of Recy Taylor a married mother who when walking home at night with friends was snatched by a group of men, driven to another area and gang raped. She and her friends reported the crime and identified the attackers who were known to the sheriff. Rosa Parks got involved in the investigation of her case and helped organize supporters to campaign for her. The attackers were never even arrested. Black women did and did not report rape, their white attackers always got off. White bus drivers berated, threatened and had black women arrested if they found them impertinent. Finally the women had had it. Jo Ann Robinson organized a large force of women to plan a boycott of the buses in Montgomery, they were just waiting for the right woman for the test case. Once organized, their first possibility was an intelligent young women who was willing to fight, but she was unmarried and pregnant. They needed the right woman, one whose morality was perfectly unassailable. Rosa Parks just happened to defy a bus driver at the right time. The women organized the boycott and Martin Luther King and the other men stepped in and became the face of their organization. Women organized alternative transportation or walked for a year in order to bring the bus company to its knees.

The book goes through years of black men being sentenced to death for even looking at a white woman - eye rape it was called - while white men who gang raped black women suffered no consequences. One white man said, "Negro women liked to be raped by the white men." When white men railed about the necessity of keeping their society pure for the sake of their children, black women said the men wanted to keep the society pure for the sake of their wife's children while they ignored the children they forced black women to bear them.

Finally in 1959, after years of black women telling their stories of abuse, four white men were found guilty of the rape of a black college student, Betty Jean Owens, in Tallahassee Florida. Not long thereafter, black college students started the sit in movement that spread throughout the south.
Women were arrested, thrown into filthy holding areas, subjected to vaginal "exams" by whoever wanted to be involved, intimidated, abused and raped. Fannie Lou Hammer was one of the women willing to talk about the violence that had been done to her. Women formed organizations to report and document these abuses. Finally, in 1965 a white man was convicted in Mississippi of raping a 15 year old black girl.

The book ends with "Power to the Ice Pick". In 1974 a black woman prisoner, Joan Little, not only fought back against the white jailer who tried to rape her, but killed him and escaped. The Civil Rights movement went from wanting to spotlight the best, the most morally and financially upright women to full out support of a black woman with a shady past who killed a white man. The "case became a test of whether an African American Woman...'finally had a right to defend herself against a white man's sexual assault.'" Among her supporters were Maulana Ron Karenga the secular humanist Black Power advocate who invented Kwanzaa, and Beatrice Johnson Reagon the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock whose song Joanne Little became the anthem for the Free Joan Little movement. Joan Little was acquitted, exposing the treatment of women in prison, helped to define rape as a crime of violence, aggression and humiliation, and put forward that all women had the "right to her own body and deserved to be treated with respect."

I'd recommend this book to anyone willing to face a very dark side of American history and wondering what kind of people were in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.
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LibraryThing member VikkiLaw
Written in a conversational tone accessible to non-academics, I think that everyone who is concerned about either racial justice/anti-racism or anti-rape work should read this. (Hell, everyone should read this, but people working in those two areas would really benefit from seeing how the two intersect to create an invisible population and struggle)… (more)
LibraryThing member FolkeB
Contrary to popular belief Rosa Parks was not some tired little old lady who one day just spontaneously decided not to give up her seat when rudely asked by the bus driver. Rosa Parks had, for years, already been a part of the Civil Rights Movement advocating for women’s rights. At the Dark End of the Street tells the story of Rosa Parks and the other influential women in the Civil Rights Movement that most history books exclude. African American women were constantly violated by white males, both sexually and physically, with little intervention by the justice system. At the Dark End of the Street highlights many of these cruel and gruesome cases in the Deep South. These cases helped build the Civil Rights Movement, ultimately bringing civil rights to African Americans everywhere in the U.S.

At the Dark End of the Street is carefully written and full of detailed facts. It reveals facts that are not taught about in most history books. The reader is able see the Civil Rights Movement through a woman’s perspective. Because the book is written about the tragedies that happened to African American women in the South, some of the details are very thorough and graphic. At times the book can be very upsetting. By the end of the book it is impossible not to be outraged by how African American women were treated in the 1900’s.

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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
McGuire charts crucial history in this text and helped me appreciate the resilience and power of so many Black women who pushed back against brutal violence and sexual assault that laid foundations for much of the critical organizing in the civil rights movement.
LibraryThing member larryerick
Imagine being a woman. A woman with 23 children. Now imagine that 20 of those children are the result of being raped. Imagine that your daughter is so fearful of being attacked, too, that she routinely carries a pistol with her when she works outside. Imagine further that her daughter, your granddaughter, is arrested, beaten bloody and naked by law enforcement for peaceably protesting that culture of violence. Such has been the life of the Southern black women, and this book does a remarkable job of vividly documenting what is really just the tip of the iceberg, just the most notorious, the most historical cases. Having read a great deal about the Civil War and the Southern slave culture, I have also found myself following up by reading on life in the South after the war ended. This is a very important book in detailing a critical part of that history and deserves our attention. Highly recommended.… (more)


Original publication date


Physical description

xxii, 324 p.; 25 cm



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