At the Dark End of the Street Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle L. McGuire includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Politics of Respectability and The Erasure of Women’s Role in Civil Rights.
In 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, historian Danielle L. McGuire uncovers the untold history of many black, female civil rights activists. McGuire’s book is meant to serve as a correction to popular accounts of the civil rights era. While the movement has frequently been associated with its male leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., McGuire argues that black women have always been at the forefront of anti-racist activism. Civil rights campaigns often targeted sexual violence, and McGuire argues that a central goal of the civil rights movement has always been the protection of black women’s bodily autonomy.
In the Prologue and Chapter 1, McGuire focuses on the sexual assault of Recy Taylor, a young woman from Alabama. In 1944, the 24-year-old Taylor is abducted and raped by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama. Though Taylor is able to identify one of the men, a grand jury refuses to issue any indictments against her rapists. Rosa Parks, then an investigator for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), travels to Abbeville to document Taylor’s abuse and failure to receive justice. Parks then works with numerous activist organizations to launch a national campaign in support of Taylor. Though the campaign forces the governor of Alabama to reopen the investigation, no charges are ever filed.
Chapters 2 and 3 focus on Rosa Parks and her role in the Montgomery bus boycott. In Montgomery, Alabama, segregation on the city’s bus lines is a hotly contested issue. Black, female riders are frequently subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and riders who refuse to obey bus drivers are sometimes violently attacked. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refuses an order by bus driver James F. Blake to relinquish her seat. Parks’ subsequent arrest and trial sparks the Montgomery bus boycott, a year-long campaign to end segregation on Montgomery’s buses. McGuire argues that Parks’ protest must be understood in the context of her long engagement with anti-racist activism, including her campaign to support Recy Taylor. In her account of the Montgomery bus boycott, McGuire also focuses on the role that black women, such as Jo Ann Robinson, play in keeping the boycott alive.
Despite the success of civil rights campaigns like the Montgomery bus boycott, the second half of the 1950s is marred by a white supremacist backlash against integration. Chapter 4 describes how segregationists form organizations such as White Citizens’ Councils and the Ku Klux Klan in response to blacks’ increasing social equality. These groups use sexual violence to intimidate blacks into forgoing their newly earned rights. In Chapters 5 and 6, McGuire describes some of the black women who continue to protest sexual violence despite increasing white supremacist violence. These women include Betty Jean Owens, who successfully brings her rapists to trial, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who testifies about her sexual assault at the Democratic National Convention.
In the final chapters of At the Dark End of the Street, McGuire explores the legacies of the civil rights movement. Chapter 7 explores how segregationists increasingly rely on racist fears about interracial sex as blacks’ gain more social equality. Many segregationists stir up paranoia among Southern whites by claiming that blacks only want social equality to gain sexual access to white women. The book Sex and Civil Rights is published to discredit the Selma march, using doctored photos to claim that the protestors engaged in interracial orgies. Chapter 8 focuses on the Joan Little trial to explore the lasting effects of the civil rights movement. In the trial, Little successfully argues that she killed her white jailer in self-defense. The jury’s acquittal of Little is seen as proof by some activists that the South is moving past its racist past.