By the time I finally learned anything about Rosa Parks I was a young adult in my early twenties during the seventies. What I had learned was that she was the old lady who was too tired to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery Alabama, an event which sparked the civil rights movement of the sixties. Prior to that revelation, I believed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, et al. were the persons responsible for starting the movement.
I can’t say that I had any special predilection for Ms. Parks’ role in the movement, and couldn’t see any tangible significance in her action, except to the extent that black people wanted to stop sitting in the backs of buses and wanted to sit, eat, live and associate with white people, but that Jim Crow wasn’t having any of that, and the white people in the south were killing black people with such vigor and vigilance to keep black people from enjoying the same rights as they.
After I finished a book entitled, “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, it revolutionized my thinking. My soul seared from the flames rising inside it as I listened to each and every word of this extremely important audio book. I felt tremendous remorse that I’d been so ignorant of the truth of Rosa Parks’ contribution to the Equal Rights Movement and the effect it had on the lives of black women, including me. I could scarcely contain myself.
Never before had I even approached the subject of rape of black women at the hands of white men, save for knowing that it existed during slavery. Within the context of America’s history, black men were mainly of incubus-type, ravenous and sexually uncontrollable savages who, by their very nature, wanted to rape and possess the pure white woman.
Nothing could have been further from the truth of those times.
It was as though white men were somehow projecting their own cruelty and carnal desires of black women to hide the truth that they, themselves were guilty of what they were professing of the black man in relation to the white woman.
Rosa Parks was at the forefront of the struggle of black women in the South who were consistently raped, beaten and then vilified before the court of public and juris opinions as whores, sluts, prostitutes and the like. She was a titan, fighting for the common and constant denial black women’s “bodily integrity.”
When Ms. Parks was arrested for merely sitting in a section of a bus not reserved for either white or black, but because the bus driver decided he didn’t want her seated at all, she was already heavily into the fray, documenting incidences of kidnapping, brutality and atrocities associated with the wanton rape by white men who trolled the black neighborhoods for black girls and women, sometimes even brazenly taking them out of their homes on the pretext of employing them.
It was due to the unrelenting vigilance of Ms. Parks and her work on behalf of Black women and the control of their own bodies that eventually the National Organization of women joined the battle, forcing the government to change the definition of rape to an “act of violence,” not sex.