The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review:
At the Dark End of the Street

Jan 8, 2018

A timely book by Danielle L. McGuire explains the fight made by working class black women and Civil Rights activists against rape. It provides a gripping read. Beginning in the 1940s and stretching to the 1970s, it brings to light a largely hidden history.

The book’s title captures its content: “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 story of the abduction and rape of Recy Taylor of Abbeville, Alabama in 1944 begins the book. Recy and her family and friends publicly identified her six attackers and sought criminal charges. As a new member of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP, a young Rosa Parks worked with Recy Taylor to fight for justice. A nation-wide campaign developed, but the fight was unsuccessful.

The book quotes Rosa Parks recalling her work in the 1940s against so many horrible injustices. She described how hard it was to keep losing these battles. She and others just kept on fighting. It was these fights that laid the groundwork for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that did succeed.

One of the joys of the book is the explanation of just how organized the women of Montgomery, Alabama were leading up to the bus boycott. How long they worked to prepare for the fight is amazing. In addition to more than 50 church organizations, Montgomery was home to more than 50 social, political and mutual benefit groups at the time of the boycott.

“The rich network of social and political organizations kept Montgomery’s class divided black community relatively connected. In addition, they served as information hubs, where news could travel easily from one neighborhood to the next. The sheer number and diversity of organizations explains the relative speed with which the 1955 boycott began; after all, blacks in Montgomery were already organized. It only seemed ‘spontaneous’ from a distance.”

The book details how widespread it was for police officers and jailers to use rape to punish civil rights protestors, trying to stop the movement.

At the movement’s height, its sheer power forced prosecutors to bring criminal charges against white men for the rape of a black woman. But it took longer still before there ever was a courtroom conviction.

The book ends with the 1975 campaign to free Joan Little, a jailed woman in North Carolina who — because of the force of the movement — was able to be found not guilty for the self-defense murder of the prison guard who had raped her.

This book reveals the bravery of working class black women and Civil Rights activists in their fight against the deeply ingrained rape culture of their era.