We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
the real work of rosa parks
Not Just Refusing to Move to the Back of the Bus
Black women stand at the intersection of two well-developed ideologies in America, one about women and one about Black people. In 1944, a Black woman organized others in her community to protect and defend Black women and girls against violations of sexual assault in the Jim Crow South. As branch secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, she investigated the acts of rampant sexual violence committed against Black women. She was responsible for collecting testimonies of Black women and girls’ hostile experiences in the workplace, social spaces, and those committed at the dark end of the street.
For many years, she led local and national coalitions, created national media opportunities, and urged Black women to “speak out” in the struggle against sexual violence. Though her contribution to the progress of Black people is mainly attributed to her refusing to move to the back of the bus, her actual work and its impact on the humanity of Black women and girls in the face of overt sexual violence is not widely discussed.
The reasons for this oversight can be linked to multiple levels of oppression and omissions that are the foundation of racism in America. However, what we discover when we explore the complete history of this Black woman, is that she was a radical Black feminist organizer long before the politic of today recognized the term. Books, like Danielle L. McGuire’s 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, highlight a legacy of Rosa Parks that both acknowledges and documents the violent history Black women suffered at the hands of both Black and white men.
While some may want to dismiss this violence as a thing of the past, the reality is that Black women continue to be victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault in large numbers. In fact, a recent national survey of African Americans’ attitudes toward reproductive health conducted by Belden Russonello Strategists found that 45 percent of African-American women have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual assault.
The lengthy battle over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) tells us that we still have a long way to go before policymakers fully acknowledge this problem. The massive push by the public that finally led to its passage, however, gives us hope that the public wants strong prevention measures in place and assistance to all women along the spectrum of femininity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The passage of VAWA extends federal protection and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and other historically marginalized communities. National organizations like Black Women’s Blueprint, a civil and human rights organization of women and men, use advocacy, education, and healing to address the historical implications and current concerns specific to the sexual assault of women of African descent.
So as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, let’s hope that we also pay homage to the whole of Rosa Park’s life by doing everything we can, during the next 50 years, to end sexual assault and domestic violence.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Summary: In Liberal America these days, one encounters a good deal of hopelessness about the future of our country. Why the hopelessness? The difficult circumstances certainly play a part. But they are not answer enough. Hopelessness is also a sign of disconnection from the realm of the spirit. In that realm, there is no sense of “impossible.” And this disconnection from the spirit is also at the root of Liberal America’s weakness. This points to a cure for our hopelessness that also can strengthen us to fight and win this battle, however challenging it may be. *******In response to my piece, “Libe Read on →
Some are born lucky. Others are born rich or marry into money. Still others create endless streams of opportunity. And perhaps when we can’t answer yes to the aforementioned, we can easily feel entitled. But in other ways, the playing field remains level. Certain attributes of the human condition we have control over, starting with the meaning we assign to the events of our life. And yes, positive events lead us to assign more pleasant meanings. There is enormous manipulation, pursued in the name of profit, to get us thinking about our bodies with a “cattle mentality.” Once we buy into what we “s Read on →
It is the morning of October 3rd. As I have for the past more than forty October 3rds, I take from the cupboard a special kind of candle and light it. As I do so, I think about my father. It was in the early morning hours of October 3, 1967, in a hospital in Minneapolis, that my father died. It was a great loss. He was not yet 49, I was 21, and his death came way too soon for me to be done needing him. The candle burning on my countertop is called a yahrzeit candle. (yahrzeit literally means “year-time.”) Bur Read on →
She told her joke by asking, “What is black and yellow and goes zub, zub, zub?” Of course, the answer is a bee going in reverse. Thus we rode this joke off into another round of high-energy talking, joking, and drinking some less than satin wine. If I were to compare her to some famous author, perhaps the Nobel-prize winning Doris Lessing would come to mind. She’s funny, yet serious at the same time. She’s a loving mother and grandmother, yet has a life of her own and has mastered how to sail through the narrows and out into the sea. She seems to Read on →