New York: Vintage Books. (Paperback). Morgann Pospisil University of Nebraska- Lincoln The Montgomery bus boycott, Little Rock Nine, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech are key moments in black liberation that are often remembered, but what about the moments that are forgotten, especially among women’s rights and sexual freedom? McGuires “At the Dark End of the Street” draws the horrific sexual and physical attacks that African Americans experienced, mostly from the hands of white men and women.
Through archives and interviews, McGuire shows how African Americans were not only fighting for their social and political freedoms but also their sexual freedom.
Throughout “At the Dark End of the Street” stories and first hand accounts take one through a whirlwind of the sexual attacks taken on men and women occurring from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, from how women were mistreatment on public transportation and how their and involvement in boycotts was often forgotten, to sexual violence in prisons and how certain policies for black freedom often caused more violent outbreaks.
One of the most prevalent themes in this book is the idea of how double standards centered around sexual violence created a variety of sexual assaults against African American Women, and the civil and physical punishments black men faced for being accused of having sexual relations with a white woman.
According to statistics by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “the sexual and reproductive health of African American women has been compromised by multiple experiences of racism.
” The cases of Recy Taylor, Willie McGee, and Mac Ingram all represent this statistic and how sexual violence not only affected female, but also male African Americans. In 1944, Recy Taylor, a black African American woman, was gang-raped by a group of six white men (McGuire 2010).
Although there was firm evidence, the four men had been presumed innocent by an all-male, all-white jury. White men being acquitted of rape charges by an all-male, all-white jury was a consistent theme. This same all-male, all-white jury, were the same ones who were accusing innocent African American men of crimes they did not commit, and often sentencing them to death. Willie McGee, a black man, in 1951 had been sentenced to death after being accused of raping a white housewife (McGuire 2010).
Also in 1951, Mack Ingram, a black tobacco field worker was walking through the fields and had asked the white field owner if he could borrow his trailer, seventy-five feet away was the plantation owners teenage daughter. When Ingram had walked towards the plantation owner, the teenage girl screamed and ran away saying that Mac was looking at her in a “leering manner,” which lead to Mack being sentenced to two years of hard labor for “eye rape” (McGuire 2010). Not only was sexual violence against blacks a problem in the south, but so was treatment from public transportation workers.
The Montgomery bus boycott was a major success in the liberation of blacks. McGuire explains how although Rosa Parks was used as the symbol for being the first woman to resist moving on the bus, that Claudette Colvin had actually been the first African American woman to resist moving for whites on public transportation in Montgomery. Although Colvin had been the first to resist movement, due to her dark skin, pregnant physical appearance, and low-status social class, it was decided that she was not an adequate symbol for this boycott (McGuire 2010). McGuire goes into detail about the violent treatment that blacks received. When the Montgomery bus boycott had been successfully complete, violence continued against black. Whites had feared their lack of power after the African American community showcased how powerful they were.
The Montgomery bus boycott wasn’t the only step towards black liberation, resulting in anger and violence from the white community. Brown v. Board of Education I was passed in 1952, leading to more violent outbursts against blacks. One specific instance involved Melba Pattillo, one of the Little Rock Nine students. She had been walking home from school one day when she had been attacked and almost raped by a white man for being black and for “taking his freedoms” (McGuire 2010).
The fear of having their political power taken away gave whites the mindset that violence was the answer; which it wasn’t. Florida A&M University had become iconic in 1951 after Betty Jean Owens, a student at the university had been rapped by four white men (McGuire 2010). After news spread about this case, many students passionately advocated for justice within the African American community. The four men ended up being guilty with a recommendation for mercy, leading to sit-ins and protests against segregation, making this one of the most significant cases in the fight for black liberation (McGuire 2010). While accounts of violence against blacks in the community were more public after the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the accounts of violence happening jails weren’t as known and definitely wasn’t something written in history textbooks.
McGuire opened my eyes, and I am sure the eyes of many others who were unaware of the brutal sexual and physical abuse African Americans suffered from. Majority of the African American individuals that had been arrested hadn’t even been arrested on a charge for a serious crime, instead, they had been incarcerated for desegregation attempts. According to an article written by PBS, Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist, had stopped in Mississippi with a group of other African American activists.
The article states how six people were arrested after sitting at a whites-only lunch counter at a bus station (PBS nd). McGuire also mentioned the case of Hammer and how she and her fellow SNCC activists were only a few of the many civil rights activists who suffered from police brutality and sexual harassment while in jail. June Johnson was not only beaten and kicked by officers but had also been forced to strip down naked in front of a group of officers (McGuire 2010). McGuire goes into further detail of the other accounts of sexual harassment and abuse experienced in southern jails. In 1960, the case of L.J. Loden, a white male who had raped a sixteen-year-old African American girl was a major case in the fight for black liberation, even though at first the case hadn’t been publicized (McGuire 2010).
This case had been ironic in the fact that it served as a push forward, and a step back for the African American Community. At first, Loden had been charged and given the death penalty. Although this seemed like a major win for justice, a Circuit Judge recalled the jurors and told them to reconsider. This lead to the jurors changing the penalty from death to life in prison with the possibility for parole. Although the outcome was not as they were hoping for, the Loden case was still a stepping-stone for African Americans. As one is clearly able to see, McGuire outlined how crimes against African Americans continued from the ’40s to the ’70s, even after civil rights acts had been passed, and how these acts these acts that were meant to be in the favor of minorities, often brought more violence to them.
After the Civil Rights Act was passed, violence against blacks moved from individual violence to group violence; the KKK. A majority of the attacks had been based around voting right, due to blacks fighting for there to vote. The attack in Selma consisted of police officers beating activists with clubs and spraying them with tear gas, trying to get them to move back towards Selma, instead of pushing through to Montgomery (McGuire 2010). Around three months after what is known as “Bloody Sunday”, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into order (NPS nd.) McGuire wraps up the book with the case of Joan Little, who had been sentenced to death in the electric chair in 1974 for killing a police officer (McGuire 2010).
McGuire had used self-defense after the white, male police officer had beat and raped her. This is another case that was significant in the black community. After being tried by a half white, half black jury, Little was acquitted since she had used self-defense to protect herself from attack. The point of ending the book on a more negative note goes to show how after so many years of struggles, even after acts were passed, African Americans still face the fear of sexual and physical violence. “At the Dark End of the Street,” correlates with information learned throughout the course of the class.
When covering the section about the Civil Rights movements and the march on Washington, we can see that both McGuire’s text and the information learned in class point out how underappreciated and shadowed women were in these key movements. It was clear to see that women were often pushed to the side and not acknowledged for their social and academic successes.
By using interviews and archival data, McGuire’s text related to the data and information we learned on crime and the violent attacks on African Americans. The inequality and double standards between African Americans and whites have been prevalent and although there had been changes in social policies, we still see similar instances today. The stories and first-hand experiences told throughout this book are parallel with intersectionality, and how interlocking identities affect how an individual is marginalized. Being African American alone caused individuals to be marginalized, but sexuality, gender, and social class also affected how these individuals were diminished. White men and black men were treated extremely different. White women were also treated differently than black men, proving that race and gender played a significant role in the marginalization of these individuals.
After reading this book I would recommend it to anyone, especially those who enjoy learning about United States history and Civil rights. This book is extremely informing and visual about instances that I would have never known about, and for that purpose, I wish books like this would be required texts for more classes. By using first-hand experiences and her own research, McGuire continually kept me intrigued and wanting to learn more. Hearing stories straight from the victims allowed me to have a true understanding of the physical and sexual abuse that they suffered from. This text brought light to black liberation and was able to finally give recognition to the brave individuals who deserved it. Without this text, many courageous individuals wouldn’t be able to share their stories with the world. Overall, I found “At the Dark End of the Street” empowering and enlightening.